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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Eyewitness: US troops seize Tikrit
By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC correspondent in Tikrit

The centre of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, could pass for a ghost town at the moment.

Normal business has been suspended, everything is locked up and closed down.

Tikriti man in empty street
The streets of Tikrit were largely deserted

There is no real sign of resistance from the Iraqis, but there are still helicopters flying over my head, on reconnaissance missions.

They are looking for remnants of the old regime, spotting for sandbagged buildings where loyalists may still be hiding.

The coalition is very visible, blowing up armaments in the police headquarters. It is a city very much under US control.

The atmosphere was relaxed when I travelled through American checkpoints into Tikrit. But within the city they are still on high alert.

Forces I spoke to told me there had been little fighting in Tikrit itself, apart from a few early morning skirmishes.

But there is fighting outside Tikrit to the north, where it seems the loyalists have been pushed out of the city.

But despite the absence of gunfire in Tikrit, there are other problems.

'I hope Saddam is still alive'

Local people are frustrated, claiming that bombing which killed 20 people yesterday also destroyed their water and electricity supplies.

They do not want to talk about the past, or Saddam Hussein.

Some of them told me: "look, it doesn't matter whether this is good or bad, we've got no choice now, so we'll accept this is happening.

"But we do want to make sure that there is stability in the area now."

Now the residents watch as US forces take down the Iraqi flag. One local who watched this happen turned to me and said: "That's such a sad state".

As a Tikriti, Saddam formed the backbone of his government by using people from here.

Unlike other cities which have been overcome by the coalition, images of Saddam still stand untarnished around Tikrit.

Mosaics of the ousted president are unharmed, and even the stonework around statues is immaculate.

Another Tikriti I spoke to told me bluntly: "If Saddam is still alive, I'm not going to tell you about it - I hope he is still alive".

Resistance vanishes

Coalition forces say the locals are neither hindering nor helping them. And the locals told me themselves that resistance forces had fled Tikrit into the surrounding countryside.

Perhaps inevitably, villagers outside Tikrit are saying the opposite - that any forces still loyal to Saddam's regime are now firmly hidden in the city.

man cycles past mural of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit
Murals of Saddam remained mostly intact

Talks are reported to be going on here between the US authorities and local tribal leaders.

But despite that, Tikritis are still leaving the city, travelling to villages on the outskirts where their tribal homes are. They feel they will be safer there from coalition bombing or an Iraqi counter-attack inside the city.

It is perhaps surprising that the much-vaunted "last stand" by Saddam loyalists never materialised here.

The sandbags dotted everywhere around here seem to have remained largely unused.

His closest supporters seem to have simply melted away - a trick repeated in other parts of the country.

As Saddam Hussein did earlier in his career, they may have gone into exile, just waiting for their chance to return.

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