Washington – Defense officials said yesterday they are investigating whether a strike on a convoy fleeing Iraq near the Syrian border last Wednesday killed top officials in the government of former President Saddam Hussein, perhaps including Hussein or his sons.
The officials said DNA tests were being carried out on the victims, and the strike by a Special Operations AC-130 gunship had drawn high-level attention in the Pentagon. But they said there is no evidence Hussein was hit, and some intelligence officials doubted whether the strike had targeted him or his sons.
One source said the attack on the convoy “chewed up something big” and added that the targets were believed to be among the top four or five Iraqis sought. Separately, a senior defense official said there was “nothing specific” about Hussein in the intelligence that prompted the attack, “although it was tied to the leadership in some manner.” A third U.S. official said there was very good intelligence that “one or more high-value targets” were in the convoy.
The search for Hussein gained a new impetus last Monday when U.S. forces captured his closest aide, Abid Hamad Mahmud. Mahmud reportedly told U.S. authorities Hussein and his sons had survived the war and that the sons, along with Mahmud, had escaped to Syria, only to be forced to return to Iraq.