ELITE teams of
US Delta Force commandos who have been inside Iraq
for weeks are preparing to descend on Baghdad with
the objective of capturing or killing President
Saddam Hussein, US defence officials said
Small, highly mobile units picked from the US
Army’s most revered and secretive fighting force
have been assigned a key mission of the war: to
hunt down Saddam, his two sons and at least a
“dirty dozen” of Iraq’s top military and civilian
The Delta Force, the US equivalent of the
British SAS, has 306 men. It has been training for
several years with the CIA for the specific
mission of hunting down the Iraqi leader,
Last night they were being mobilised to
infiltrate Baghdad and Saddam’s home city of
Tikrit to begin the hunt.
As plans were revealed to drop the commandos
from Black Hawk helicopters to sites outside
Baghdad, it became clear that, if US forces locate
Saddam, the likelihood is that they will kill him
and his closest henchmen rather than capture them.
“The expectation is to kill him within days (of
the start of the war),” a Pentagon official
said.“It’s what Delta has been training 24/7 to
Assassinating a foreign leader runs counter to
a 1976 order signed by President Ford. But White
House officials cite international law, which
states that, once a war begins, there are no
limits on military actions against enemy leaders.
Saddam, as Commander-in-Chief of Iraq’s Armed
Forces, is a legitimate target, they say.
CIA operatives have been photographing and
spying on Saddam’s numerous presidential
compounds, while US spy satellites take daily
pictures of the Iraqi leader’s suspected hideouts.
Some of the most detailed information on his
possible whereabouts, Pentagon officials said, has
come from Jordanian intelligence.
Saddam will prove a highly elusive prey,
however. During the 1991 Gulf War, allied aircraft
bombed 260 “leadership targets”, including
underground bunkers, command centres and offices,
but failed to touch him. The Iraqi leader, who has
at least three surgically enhanced body doubles,
spent 38 nights of Operation Desert Storm hiding
in the homes of ordinary families, never staying
in the same place twice, a tactic that he is
likely to repeat.
He also claims to have more than 400 hideouts
in Baghdad, homes and apartment buildings
indistinguishable from ordinary Iraqi residences.
The US commandos are preparing to conduct
house-to-house searches for him, officials said.
In Baghdad, a city of more than five million
people, Saddam has a dozen presidential compounds,
connected with tunnels built by Yugoslav experts
who built a network of underground hideouts for
Marshal Tito during the Cold War. Saddam also has
several unmarked lorries in which he can live for
days at a time.
The Iraqi leader views himself as an
indefatigable survivor, having emerged unscathed
from at least seven domestic assassination
attempts, a CIA-sponsored coup attempt and the
1991 Gulf War.
The first job of Delta Force commandos will be
to isolate Saddam from his military commanders.
They plan to hack into and shut down Iraq’s
communications and power facilities using laptop
computers. They hope to prevent Saddam from
communicating with senior officers who might help
him to escape or might be awaiting orders to use
chemical or biological weapons.
Pentagon officials concede that the best
chances of finding him lie with informants. “We’ve
been trying to track Saddam down since the
beginning of the Gulf War, without success,”
retired Marine Lieutenant Gregory Newbold said.
Peter Singer, a Washington-based Iraqi expert
said: “He carries a gun, is always surrounded by
armed bodyguards and will not want to be captured.
The order is not to risk US lives to capture him
alive. But it could take a very, very long time to
If Saddam is captured, he will be tried for war
crimes, although the forum has not yet been
decided on. The likely choice is between the
International Criminal Court in the Hague, a body
the United States has refused to recognise, or a
military tribunal set up by America.
One advantage of a successful prosecution is
the damning evidence that would emerge and would
justify the invasion.
Special operations forces will play a support
role to conventional ground forces in Iraq. But it
will still be a much bigger part than they played
in the first Gulf War, when they were introduced,
almost as an afterthought, after Iraq began firing
Scuds into Israel and Saudi