Dictator still at large despite reward of $25m for his capture

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Where is Saddam Hussein? The US military will now concentrate its attention on the hunt for the ousted Iraqi leader, still believed to be at large in Iraq.

Finding the former dictator has become more important because the guerrilla-style resistance to the American forces that has grown since Saddam was overthrown at the beginning of April.

The US administration in Iraq believes that Saddam's continued evasion is being used by resistance forces to gain leverage and influence over elements of the Iraqi population and to foment opposition to the new government.

Naturally enough, Saddam's whereabouts are just about the hottest topic of conversation among the people of Iraq and officials at the Pentagon and the CIA. There is a $25m (£15m) reward for information leading to his capture or proving that he is dead.

Saddam has long been thought to have been living in an area north of Baghdad. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, has often said he believes Saddam is moving in an arc from Diyala, north-east of Baghdad, around the Tigris river towards his home town of Tikrit and into the Dulaimi areas to the west of the Tigris. He said Saddam was offering a reward of $200 for every US soldier killed.

Earlier this month, a former senior Iraqi intelligence officer told The Independent that Saddam and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, were hiding in an area of farmland and small villages on the Tigris river between Baghdad and the city of Samarra.

General Wafiq al-Samarrai, the head of Iraqi military intelligence before he went into exile, is helping American forces in the hunt for Saddam. He said the deposed leader had been able to escape capture because the area was heavily populated and had thick vegetation. "He is hiding in an area about 60km [37 miles] long and about 20km wide according to my information," General Samarrai said. He said that Ali Hassan al-Majid, the senior member of Saddam's inner circle notorious for using poison gas against the Kurds, was also there but moving separately from the other former Iraqi rulers.

Other Iraqi opposition leaders have said they believe that Saddam, who disappeared after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April, is hiding a little further to the east near the town of Baqubah.

The hunt for Saddam is being led by a specialist and secretive team of American troops.

The so-called Task Force 20 includes members of the Army's Delta Force, the Navy's counter-terrorism specialists and operatives from the CIA.

Finding Saddam would represent a massive public relations coup for the Bush administration.

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, said last month that the failure to track down the former dictator "does make a difference because it allows the Baathists to go around in the bazaars and villages as they are doing, saying 'Saddam, is alive and he's going to come back and we're going to come back'."