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Doubt leads to fear

The U.S. ambush of a three-vehicle convoy fleeing Iraq, and the DNA testing of the slain, underscores the justifiable importance the American occupation forces place on locating Saddam Hussein.

Capturing Saddam or proving conclusively that he is dead is a necessary prerequisite to stabilizing Iraq, and to a lesser extent this applies to his two sons, Uday and Quesay, as well.

If Saddam is not dead, it's not for lack of trying. U.S. forces tried to take him out early in the war by bombing a command bunker where he was thought to be directing the war and later bombing a shelter in downtown Baghdad where he was thought to be conducting a meeting. No proof has turned up that he was in either place.

While there have been rumors of sightings, suspect videotapes and even rumors of a letter offering to surrender, there is no conclusive proof that he is still alive, either. The best available evidence is that Saddam's top aide, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, captured June 16, reportedly told U.S. interrogators that Saddam and his sons survived the war and fled to Syria but were turned back.

The fact is that with no conclusive proof to the contrary, most of Iraq and the Mideast believes Saddam is alive. King Abdullah of Jordan said so publicly Sunday, speculating that the deposed dictator was moving from place to place in northwestern Iraq by taxi and pickup.

As long as doubt of Saddam's death exists, a substantial number of Iraqis won't fully cooperate with the coalition because they are terrified Saddam will somehow make a comeback. If nothing else, Saddam left a legacy of real fear.

And there is the Baath party apparatus that flourished under Saddam that believes by not cooperating with or sabotaging the occupation will one day allow them to return to power. The possibility that Saddam is alive nourishes that belief.

Some suspect Saddam himself may be behind the increasingly organized attacks on U.S. forces. Even if he's not, that poses the risk of making him into a folk hero with Iraqi nationalists who may not have liked Saddam but don't like foreign occupiers, either.

And finally, there's the factor of American morale. After having failed so far to find Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar or weapons of mass destruction, it would be a boost if we could find something. Saddam, dead or alive, as President Bush once said, would be a good start.

- Birmingham Post-Herald