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Shepperd: Focus may shift to Tikrit

'Not a good day to be a Saddam look-alike'

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd
Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd

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(CNN) -- As coalition forces worked to gain complete control of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the hunt for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continued Thursday.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, discussed how the search may lead northward to Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

SHEPPERD: It's not irrelevant that coalition forces are looking for Saddam Hussein. Clearly, the coalition would like to have Saddam Hussein. They would like to be able to present him and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. But they don't know where he is, whether he is dead or alive and whether his sons are dead or alive.

Although the regime is becoming irrelevant, from the standpoint of being able to command and control the forces remaining, clearly, we would still like to have him.

The coalition forces are reacting to what they call actionable intelligence -- information from people they believe in. For a long time, the CIA has flooded the area where much of his regime would likely be congregating at Tikrit for a final battle. The CIA is trying to verify that possibility before putting troops at risk and launching. It is not a good day to be a Saddam look-alike, I suspect, wherever you are in Iraq.

The Iraqis probably could have something up their sleeves and have final plans. Their ability to issue an order is probably still there, by radio, telephone or other means.

But their ability to carry it out -- to move forces -- is simply not there. Whatever they move is going to be hit by air. It looks like the final battle may be shaping up around the Tikrit area.

There are rumors there are between 60,000 and 80,000 remaining Republican Guard forces and regular army forces probably concentrating north of Baghdad between Tikrit and Mosul. All of them are being attacked by coalition air power and watched by Special Forces. The outcome, again, is not in doubt.

I assume whichever unit is nearest when the coalition gets an intelligence report is who will be sent in. But you can bet that Special Forces and the CIA are working hand in hand throughout the country to get the intelligence and then pass it to Central Command headquarters. The organization there will decide what force then goes after him, or whether to launch a Special Forces operation.

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd was in the U.S. Air Force for almost 40 years and flew 247 fighter combat missions in Vietnam. He served at the Pentagon as the Air National Guard commander and was directly involved in planning the use of Air National Guard forces during the Persian Gulf War. Shepperd runs a defense consulting firm called The Shepperd Group. He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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