Experts use DNA to determine Saddam's fate


US forensics experts are hoping DNA from Saddam Hussein and his sons will help them determine whether the Iraqi president was killed by Allied air strikes.

The dictator's fate remains a mystery to officials in Washington, even though his government collapsed last week.

Tommy Franks, the US general running the war against Iraq, yesterday revealed that American investigators had Saddam's DNA. "Of course, of course" we do, he said, without saying how it was obtained.

Using that, investigators would be able to identify Saddam positively, "unless the remains were removed" from where he died, Franks said. "What you should know is that we have the forensic capability to chase these things down, and we will chase them down, every one of them, all the way," he said. Franks' disclosure came on the same day US officials said they had captured Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti, one of Saddam's half-brothers.

US officials later said al-Tikriti and Saddam shared a mother but had different fathers. Medical authorities said al-Tikriti's capture could lead to easier identification of any possible remains of Saddam because scientists can compare their mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down from mothers to children.

The opening salvo of the war in Iraq was aimed directly at Saddam and aides, including his sons. Cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs struck a compound near Baghdad where he was believed to have been sleeping. On April 7, an American bomber struck a residential complex in Baghdad after US intelligence agencies received information that Saddam, his sons and other top Iraqi leaders might have been meeting there, US officials said.

With DNA analysis capability, even the tiniest fragment of human remains can be identified, said Barry Scheck, a lawyer who specialises in DNA testing. DNA analysis can greatly simplify the identification process, Scheck said. "It allows them to check blood stains, skin cells, sweat, saliva, pieces of clothing they find, to determine whether or not what they recover at a scene of destruction is Saddam Hussein's DNA," said Scheck.

A hair can yield DNA and is particularly helpful if it contains the root, Scheck said. Tests to determine a match take as little as a day or two, he said.