US military say capture of bodyguards brings them ever closer to Saddam

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The Independent Online

American military leaders expressed optimism last night that they are getting ever closer to capturing or killing Saddam Hussein, after the arrest yesterday of several of his former bodyguards during a raid in the city of Tikrit.

"I believe that we continue to tighten the noose," Major-General Ray Odierno, commander of the US Army's 4th Infantry Division, told reporters at the Pentagon during a teleconference from Tikrit.

He added: "I believe that we continue to gain more and more information about where he might be."

It is only three days since the Americans killed Saddam's two sons in the city of Mosul, acting on a tip from an Iraqi informant. Yesterday's raid was also the result of a tip, officials said. Thirteen men were captured.

"Somewhere between five and 10 of those, we're still sorting through it, are believed to be Saddam Hussein's personal security detachment," Maj- Gen Odierno said, adding they were already being interrogated in the hope they might provide information on the whereabouts of Saddam.

The Pentagon continues to express confidence that Saddam is hiding somewhere inside Iraq and that it is only a matter of time before he is located.

Among the leads being followed is information that he recently spoke by telephone to one of his wives, but her identity has not been revealed. Officials say tips from Iraqi informers have multiplied since the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein in a ferocious gun battle on Tuesday. One such contact led US soldiers on Thursday to unearth a cache of arms buried near the town of Samara.

The materials included 45,000 sticks of dynamite, 11 improvised bombs, 34 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 150 RPG rounds, more than three dozen machineguns and sub-machineguns, and a bomb detonation cord.