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U.S. commander: Troops turning corner on Iraq attacks

Lt. Col. Steve Russell
Lt. Col. Steve Russell

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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces remain on the hunt for Saddam Hussein in his ancestral homeland of Tikrit in north-central Iraq.

The U.S. military said that the deposed Iraqi leader is constantly on the run and may be disguised with long gray hair and a beard.

Lt. Col. Steve Russell discussed the search Friday with CNN Anchor Leon Harris. Russell commands troops in the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment.

HARRIS: We are hearing from the Pentagon that it's believed that the circle around Saddam Hussein is getting smaller and smaller. You're learning that he's on the move, maybe three or four times a day. What did you learn about that, or at least what can you tell us about what you've learned there?

RUSSELL: Well, I know this is his birthplace. Geographically, it's possible he could be in the area. We take that information seriously, and we act on it when appropriate.

HARRIS: Are the tips on Saddam's whereabouts coming in hot and heavy now? Or are they slowing down to a trickle? Can you tell us about that?

RUSSELL: We're getting a lot of cooperation from the Iraqi people on members of the former regime -- those who are attacking coalition forces. [We're getting] great cooperation from the Iraqi police. ... As far as tips on the inner leadership or on Saddam himself, we will always get some information, and we treat every single piece of information seriously.

HARRIS: What can you tell us about what you're learning about the folks recruited to execute these guerrilla attacks against U.S. troops? Is that a process that is starting to slow down, speed up or what?

RUSSELL: We're seeing us turn the corner with these Fedayeen-type attacks. Our soldiers here have done fantastic work, in either killing them or capturing them -- going after their leadership.

They are trying to recruit in small numbers, but they seem deterred. We had an incident [Thursday], where we had two who were newly recruited who had fled and said they didn't want any part of it.

HARRIS: Let me ask you about the tactics that you're using in some of these raids. It's been said that perhaps these tactics of the past have been increasing problems and tensions there in mostly the population. Are you concerned now that any changes to your routine will limit your success in finding Saddam Hussein or any of his, the people protecting him?

RUSSELL: No, not at all. In fact, we've had the absolute support of the chain of command. And what we've seen is if we can go in impassively, we do so sometimes, with bullhorns to call out the individuals we're looking for.

At other times, we'll go in with the appropriate force. We go in heavy-handed, if we think there will be arms or people who are willing to fire back at us on these raids. But our tactics have been very evenhanded here, and the Iraqis are giving us great support.

HARRIS: From what you're seeing right now, does your gut tell you you're maybe days, hours, weeks? How long away from finding Saddam Hussein?

RUSSELL: Well, that's the $25 million question. I think as we continue to drain the swamp, we might find something in it. We're continuing to go after his leadership, and we will treat all information seriously

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