Saddam's regime evaporates, Russia denies rumors

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The regime of President Saddam Hussein has collapsed and leading aides have fled to Syria.

Russia denied rumors swirling through Baghdad that Saddam had found refuge in its embassy in the city as its ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, returned unexpectedly to Baghdad after evacuating the compound on Saturday. Titorenko returned to Baghdad after a visit to Moscow by U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

U.S. officials said the last traces of command and control of Iraqi forces have dissipated. They said representatives of the regime have simply disappeared and many of their homes were looted by Iraqi mobs.

"The game is over," said Mohammed Al Douri, Iraqi envoy to the United Nations and the last major figure of the regime who hasn't fled.

There was no sign of the Saddam regime in Baghdad on Wednesday or Thursday.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Sahaf failed to give his daily briefing and employees of his ministry were gone.

Some Arab volunteers continued to comprise pockets of resistance around Baghdad. But others, including Al Qaida insurgents, have been captured. The London-based Iraqi opposition said 70 Al Qaida agents sent by Osama Bin Laden to fight for Saddam have been captured by coalition forces in Al Kut, east of the Iraqi capital.

Russia's media reported that CIA teams have failed to find the archives of the Saddam regime. The Moscow-based Interfax news agency said the archives were believed to have been transfered to the Russian embassy in Baghdad, which was reopened on Wednesday amid widespread looting in the capital.

In several foreign capitals, Iraqi intelligence agents were said to have seized documents to prevent them from falling into coalition hands. Iraqi diplomats in several countries were said to have requested political asylum from host governments.

Russia also denied rumors that Saddam has found refuge in the Russian embassy in Baghdad.

Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabi Berri said Russia and the United States appear to have reached agreement regarding the future of Saddam. Berri said

"Saddam Hussein could have found refuge in the Russian embassy in Baghdad," Berri said in Beirut without elaborating.

Russian officials quickly denied that their government was sheltering Saddam. "This type of statement is not in any way true," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said. "This is another attempt to place our embassy in Baghdad under threat." Officials said Iraq's military and Saddam's militias continued to resist in Mosul, Tikrit and some parts of Baghdad. But they said the operations by Saddam's forces were completely disorganized and would be terminated within days.

"We certainly are focused on Tikrit to prevent the regime from being able to use it as a place to command and control, to restore command and control, or to hide," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy operations chief at U.S. Central Command, said. "We anticipate that any fighting that would occur there, if we happen to go to Tikrit, would be similar to what we've seen in other parts of the country."

On Thursday, Saddam loyalists, which includes the Special Republican Guard, waged an intense battle against U.S. marines in northern Baghdad. The marine force, which sustained casualties, was said to have been engaged in a search for Saddam.

Saddam's whereabouts is unclear in wake of the U.S. air bombing of a suspected regime bunker in Baghdad on Monday. Officials said U.S. intelligence has revised its assessment and now believes that Saddam escaped the air bombing of his bunker while his aides have headed for Syria.

"Syria has been cooperative in facilitating the movement of people out of Iraq into Syria, and then in some cases, they stayed there and found safekeeping there," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "They are moving from Syria to still other places."

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