April 10, 2003 -- Even as U.S. Marines tightened the noose that would eventually topple the iron statute of Saddam Hussein from its place in central Baghdad, many are still wondering: Where is the real dictator?
The latest intelligence from U.S. and British sources is that Saddam Hussein may have lived through all the U.S. military could throw at him.
"This is a man who has spent a lifetime trying to avoid and evade assassins and military coups," said Richard Clarke, an ABCNEWS consultant who was a national security adviser at the White House before leaving earlier this year.
"He is always looking for his bolt hole," added Vince Cannistraro, a former senior intelligence officer and now an ABCNEWS consultant. "Whatever action he takes, he's always looking the next step ahead: 'What if something happens here. Where do I go next?' "
Officials now believe that Saddam and many of his ministers may have escaped Baghdad and are headed north, perhaps to his hometown of Tikrit, or some perhaps to Syria.
"We're getting intelligence saying Syria's been cooperative in moving people out of Iraq to Syria," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
Opening — But Missed — Shots
It was three weeks ago that the U.S. military first targeted Saddam Hussein and started the war. Cruise missiles and bunker buster bombs fell on a compound in Baghdad believed to be the meeting place for Saddam, his sons and other Baath Party members.
"The U.S. intelligence community to this day says it is highly confident that he went into the building, and the building was then bombed," said Clarke.
Within days Saddam was on television and the United States conceded it was not one of his body doubles, but the man himself, touching off recriminations and finger-pointing in Washington.
Said Clarke: "There's really no explanation anyone has to this moment about how he survived."
Then, late Monday (Tuesday in Iraq), there was another U.S. attack based on intelligence Saddam and his ministers were about to gather in a house near a restaurant, in the Mansour district of Baghdad.
"American covert agents or special forces saw him get out of the car and go into the restaurant or the house next to it," said Clarke.
A B-1 aircraft was diverted to the area and dropped four huge bombs. Little was left after the bombing and it seemed impossible anyone could have survived.
The restaurant, the al-Saah, appeared heavily damaged but not completely destroyed. And U.S. authorities received reports he escaped once again.
"Apparently someone saw what looked like Saddam Hussein being taken out of the restaurant by his bodyguards," said Clarke.
And that night, leadership communication signals simply disappeared, a sign that perhaps Saddam's son Qusai, in charge of the defense of Baghdad, had been killed.
"There's been no sign he's been active since that Monday evening bombing," said Cannistraro.
Saddam's Last Stand?
Russian officials have denied that Saddam took exile in their embassy in Baghdad, although there are reports he was trying to negotiate such a deal.
But now the focus turns very much to Tikrit. It's where he would want to make his final stand, if he's alive to make one, according to biographer Com Coughlin.
"It is in Tikrit that he has his tribesman. He has proper support. People will conceal him; they won't betray him," said Coughlin. "I think Saddam will stay in Tikrit, even if he means he dies in Tikrit."
ABCNEWS' Brian Ross contributed to this report.