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War in the Gulf: RUN AWAY; Saddam ready to flee as Baghdad exodus begins.

Byline: Ian Smith

SADDAM Hussein is trying to flee Baghdad for a last stand in his home town of Tikrit, military chiefs claimed last night.

The Iraqi leader's regime is now on the verge of collapse after a string of defeats, surrenders and disasters.

Yesterday, Saddam - or one of his legion of lookalikes - went on walkabout in Baghdad.

But as he smiled and waved, thousands of ordinary Iraqis were fleeing the capital, despite his orders to stay and fight. And his "elite" Republican Guard appeared to be falling apart, with 25000 troops reported to have surrendered in the south-east of the city.

Allied military chiefs insisted there was growing evidence Saddam was cut off and isolated from his armies.

And he may see Baghdad as lost and try to retreat for a final stand at Tikrit, among his own people. There, he has a heavily fortified Presidential Palace, with bunkers 120ft deep.

A senior military source at US Central Command in Qatar said: "We have credible intelligence on this and are actively preparing for it.

"Saddam is from Tikrit, north-west of Baghdad, his acolytes are there and he still has command facilities there.

"There is one Republican Guard division there which is loyal. If he was to make a fight of it, it would be there."

Deputy director of operations Brigadier General Vince Brooks said they were now trying to cut the link between Baghdad and Tikrit.

Heavy bombing raids have been launched on Saddam's headquarters in the town and the Adnan Republican Guard surrounding it.

General Brooks said: "We have taken action to influence that link. We cannot allow an escape to occur. There will be a time of accounting."

Yesterday, Saddam or his lookalike - in green military uniform and beret, with a pistol at his waist - moved slowly through crowds of cheering men. Some kissed him on his cheeks and hands and he held up a small child.

One man shouted: "We'll defend you with our blood and souls, Saddam."

That defence could well be in Tikrit, seen as a sacred site to many. It is also the birthplace of Arab leader Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1187.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 5, 2003
Words:361
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