Two aces possibly toppled but pack is still loaded

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The Independent Online

If Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, are dead, they will be the most senior members of the former Iraqi regime to have been eliminated since their father was ousted more than three months ago.

Saddam is number one on the occupation force's list of most-wanted Iraqis, the ace of spades in the pack of cards issued as an aid to American troops.

But his increasing reliance on his own family and al-Tikriti clan in the latter years of his rule means that Qusay, who commanded the Republican Guard, the intelligence services and his father's bodyguards, is next on the list. Uday, who headed the Fedayeen militia despite the injuries he suffered in an assassination attempt a few years ago, is third. Earlier this month Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq, announced a $25m (£16m) reward for information leading to the capture of Saddam, and $15m each for his sons. A tip-off is said to have led troops to the house in Mosul where Uday and Qusay were hiding, but it was unclear yesterday whether anyone stood to receive the $30m on offer.

Apart from Saddam, the most notorious of those still at large is probably Ali Hassan al-Majid, one of his cousins and fifth on the most-wanted list. Known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas against the Kurds in 1988, and feared by Shia Iraqis for his brutal rule of the south, he was thought to have been killed by an air strike on his palace in Basra. Witnesses claimed to have seen him after the war, however, apparently seeking false identity documents in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and his status remains uncertain. Next on the list of those still being sought is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam's deputy on the supreme Revolutionary Command Council.

More than half - 34 - of the 55 Iraqis on the most-wanted list are in custody, but, until yesterday, only one of the top seven had been captured or killed. He is Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam's former presidential secretary and one of his closest associates, who was captured just over a month ago. He was number four on the list.

Authorities have also been successful in capturing leading scientists who ought to know the whereabouts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - if any exist. But despite the interrogation of figures such as Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, Saddam's top scientific adviser, no finds have yet been forthcoming.