US and UK forces were today focusing on another target: President Saddam’s hometown, Tikrit, which is still a stronghold of his loyalist troops.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Iraqi Kurdish groups opposing Saddam, claimed that he was hiding in Tikrit. US officers said special forces and air strikes were “actively engaging” Iraqi forces in Tikrit.
Brig Gen Brooks said that US forces have tried to block the roads from Baghdad to Tikrit to stop the regime’s leaders from fleeing north.
The Kurdish claim follows speculation about whether Saddam survived Monday’s “decapitation” strike, in which four 2,000lb US bombs destroyed a Baghdad restaurant where the Iraqi president and his sons were believed to have been meeting.
Saddam’s fate remained unknown, but his loyalists retained control of the Baghdad area targeted in the US strike intended to kill him.
The British foreign intelligence agency, MI6, reportedly told the CIA that it believed Saddam and his two sons had left the restaurant moments before it was turned into a 60ft crater.
The prime minister, Tony Blair, today stressed that it was difficult to know what was left of the Iraqi regime, and precisely who would have the authority to surrender to coalition forces.
“This conflict is not over yet,” Mr Blair told the Commons. “There are still some very difficult things to do. As we speak, there is still intense resistance … amongst those parts of Saddam’s regime that want to cling on to power.”