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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
US hopes raised of Saddam hit
Saddam Hussein awards a medal to his son Uday
The fate of Saddam and his sons is a headache for the US
Officials in the United States have expressed hope that a strike on a convoy in Iraq may have killed former President Saddam Hussein or his sons.

Investigations, including DNA testing, are reported to be taking place into the identities of the victims in last week's air strike.

Confusion still reigns about the level of intelligence which prompted the attack, as defence sources have given widely varying accounts of events to the media.

The Pentagon has refused officially to confirm or deny that an attempt to kill the former Iraqi leader has taken place.

But the speculation has led to optimism that the Iraqi leader may have been killed.

"[We] hope that we've scored, but we don't know that," said Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Conflicting accounts

Spokesmen for the US Central Command have turned down all opportunities to confirm or deny on the record reports that American Hellfire missiles were fired from an unmanned aircraft.

I have no information that leads us to believe we got Saddam
US official

But plenty of speculation is going on off the record.

Demonstrating the level of uncertainty that still surrounds events, one unnamed administration official told the New York Times that a good intelligence lead had instigated the convoy attack.

But another said: "I have no information that leads us to believe we got Saddam."

And a military officer said: "There might be people crossing their fingers, but it's just like a year ago when they were crossing their fingers" in the hope of capturing Osama bin Laden.

Officials said a team was moving in to try to recover the DNA of those who were in the convoy in order to check their identities, but it was unclear whether or not that work had begun.

Captured aide's information

The search for Saddam Hussein has been led by Task Force 20 which specialises in covert actions and works closely with American intelligence agencies.

The search for the deposed leader has intensified since the capture of his close aide, Mahmud al-Tikriti, who has told American interrogators that Saddam Hussein and his sons are still alive.

Last week's air strike is reported to have taken place near the Syrian border in western Iraq.

Mahmud al-Tikriti said he had fled to Syria with the former president's two sons, Uday and Qusay but they had later returned to Iraq.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"Saddam's survival is the biggest of many headaches"

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