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U.S. officials detail attack on convoy

Predator drone fired on cars possibly carrying top Iraqis

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

U.S. Army Pfc. Daniel Ogas takes a position along a road in Habbaniya during a convoy patrol.
U.S. Army Pfc. Daniel Ogas takes a position along a road in Habbaniya during a convoy patrol.

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CNN's Jamie McIntyre says U.S. officials are downplaying the possibility that Saddam Hussein was killed in last week's attack on a convoy.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- DNA testing likely will be performed on the victims of a U.S. attack on a convoy in western Iraq last week to determine whether former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was among the dead, sources said Monday.

One Pentagon official said that before the attack there was "at least a hope" that Saddam or his sons might have been in the convoy.

But now Pentagon officials are downplaying speculation the former Iraqi leader was killed in the strike near the border with Syria.

Nevertheless, a U.S. defense official said forensic teams were continuing to look at the attack site and that DNA tests could be used to ensure Saddam Hussein was not one of those killed.

"Routine DNA testing will be done if appropriate, based on all available intelligence," the official said.

That might eventually rule out that Saddam and his sons were there, but may not tell the United States who was killed, and if they were ordinary Iraqis or low-level officials.

Based on intelligence related to the capture last week of Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud, Saddam's closest confidant, U.S. forces targeted a convoy of six vehicles leaving a compound in the border town of Qaim last Wednesday.

The convoy was believed to be carrying former senior leaders of the Iraqi regime. (Map)

According to U.S. government sources, a U.S. Air Force Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles tracked the vehicles in the convoy, which split into two groups.

A special operations AC-130 gunship was called in, the sources said. At some point, the Predator launched its Hellfire missiles, the AC-130 opened fire with its 105 mm cannon, and a commando team from Task Force 20 moved in.

After the initial attack, a person was spotted on foot near the border with Syria. U.S. special operations forces pursued the individual, and some Syrian border guards showed up, the sources said.

Pentagon officials said at that point the U.S. troops may have crossed the Syrian border. In any event, there was an engagement and three Syrians were wounded. They received medical treatment from the U.S. military. It's not clear if they were shot from the ground or from the air.

Some local villagers have claimed the people killed in the attack were sheep smugglers. Pentagon officials said they might have been smugglers, but said U.S. intelligence strongly suggests high-level Iraqis, not sheep, were their cargo.

Most of the 20 people captured in the attack have been released, Pentagon officials said.

Pentagon sources said the intelligence that led to the attack was related to the capture of Mahmud, Saddam's national security adviser and chief bodyguard, but that it wasn't based on Mahmud's interrogation.

A senior Syrian official confirmed to CNN that there was a firefight last week but insisted the Syrian border guards were "not trying to provoke" and called it an "isolated incident."

Imad Mustapha, deputy ambassador at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, said some wounded border guards were still being given medical treatment by the U.S. military. But Mustapha said the guards were not in U.S. custody.

"We hope they will be returned very soon," he said.

Mustapha went on to say that he hoped the use of force was not a policy "endorsed by either country."

Other developments

• A U.S. soldier was fatally wounded Sunday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a convoy in Khan Azad, 12 miles south of the Iraqi capital, an Army spokeswoman said. Nineteen U.S. troops have been killed in hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, according to the Pentagon. Another 37 have died in what are described as nonhostile incidents.

• The U.S. military said it had no reports of casualties from an oil pipeline explosion and fire Sunday in the town of Hit, about 90 miles west of Baghdad. The military did not say what caused the fire and explosion, or provide further details

•  In the same area Sunday, the U.S. Army said a Humvee from the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment ran over a land mine, injuring two soldiers.

• Also Sunday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, said on ABC's "This Week" that Bush should make clear that U.S. involvement in Iraq is a "five-year plan."

CNN correspondents Barbara Starr and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report

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