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Saddam May Have Important Role in Attacks on U.S. Forces

By Douglas Jehl

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Saddam Hussein may be playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks by his loyalists against U.S. forces in Iraq, senior U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The officials cited recent intelligence reports indicating that Saddam is acting as a catalyst or even a leader in the armed opposition, probably from a base of operations near Tikrit, his hometown and stronghold. A leadership role by Saddam would go far beyond anything previously acknowledged by the Bush administration, which has sought in its public remarks to portray the former Iraqi leader as being on the run and irrelevant.

Officials acknowledged that the reports of a significant role by Saddam could not be corroborated, and one senior official cautioned that recent intelligence reports contained conflicting assessments. Nonetheless, three senior officials described reports of a larger role by Saddam as credible, and a Defense Department official said the information had given a fresh sense of urgency to the U.S.-led manhunt for the former Iraqi leader.

“There are some accounts that say he is somehow instigating or fomenting some of the resistance,” another U.S. official said of the intelligence reports.

Saddam is believed to have met with Izzat Ibrahim, a fugitive former general who was officially the second-highest ranking member of the Iraqi government at the time of the U.S.-led invasion and who is described by U.S. officials as playing a significant role in the insurgency.

Ibrahim, who is No. 6 on the U.S. most-wanted list, has been described by some Defense Department officials as having recently been in contact with members of Ansar al-Islam, a militant group that had been based in northern Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion and which is linked to the terrorist organization al-Qaida.

Such contacts would be the clearest evidence to date of coordination between forces loyal to Saddam and members of the extremist group in the campaign against U.S. forces in Iraq.