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January 20, 2003

But let Israel do this and the world screams. U.S. Units on Hunt to Track Saddam
JORDAN-IRAQ BORDER — As the Bush administration moves into what officials call the last phase of the showdown with Iraq, the United States is undertaking a vigorous military and intelligence effort to track, and possibly kill, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The effort involves, among other things, small teams of U.S. special operations forces and CIA paramilitary units inside and around Iraq, satellite imagery, radio intercepts and airborne reconnaissance, U.S. intelligence officials say.

The activities are part of a strategy designed to pressure Saddam to depart or disarm and, if he won't, pave the way for a U.S.-led invasion to oust him. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he would support exile for Saddam and his family as a way to avoid war. But national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said it is "unlikely" the Iraqi dictator would go voluntarily as the confrontation enters "the start of a last phase."

In advance of a possible war:

Nearly 100 U.S. special operations forces and more than 60 CIA operatives have been conducting reconnaissance missions in Iraq's deserts and outside its major cities since September, senior U.S. and Arab intelligence officials said, confirming a Boston Globe report earlier this month. The missions include monitoring troop movements at army bases used by Iraqi Republican Guard, Saddam's most loyal defenders. The U.S. forces are also scouting landing strips for U.S. and coalition aircraft and training opposition Kurdish and Shiite leaders to fight against Saddam.
Nearly 35,000 feet above Iraq, a converted Boeing 707 is flying 10 hours a day, every day, recording conversations of top Iraqi officials and pinpointing the location of those calls to within a mile.
Two spy satellites, code-named Micron and Trumpet, are intercepting calls and walkie-talkie transmissions from Iraqi military sites, Saddam's motorcade, his palaces and other areas. A U.S. official in the region said Saddam is aware of such efforts.
The U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which oversees military operations in Iraq, and the CIA in Langley, Va., declined to comment officially. "We don't talk about current operations," Central Command spokesman Maj. Bill Harrison said.

Last year, President Bush directed the CIA to undertake a covert program to topple Saddam, senior U.S. officials say. The presidential order directs the CIA to work with U.S. special operations forces, which include Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other specialized military units.

Despite Rumsfeld's comments about exile and renewed international efforts over the weekend, few U.S. officials believe that Saddam will flee Iraq or seek asylum. The U.S. diplomat in the Middle East said the goal is to oust Saddam and, under Bush's directive to the CIA, U.S. forces can kill the Iraqi leader if they believe their lives are in danger.

Saddam, 65, is a master of deception who has managed to elude the world and internal coup plots through his 24-year reign. "Saddam knows what America would like to do to him, so he rules from the shadows," said Wafiq al-Sammarai, a former chief of Iraq's military intelligence who defected in 1994. "He is one of the most paranoid, but also one of the best-defended, leaders in the world. He will make it hard, maybe even impossible, for America to get him."