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Hussein has scores of hiding spots in place

The last time Americans came gunning for Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president waited out 38 nights of Desert Storm bombing in the homes of ordinary Baghdad families, never staying in the same place twice.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Hussein would travel to several of the dozens of underground redoubts in his capital or parts further afield, to oversee his army.

The closest he came to dying, according to his former secretary, was when he left the al Firdos command bunker in suburban Baghdad an hour before it was decimated in February 1991 by U.S. laser-guided bombs.

Now, as war again looms, Hussein's safety strategy is a matter of intense behind-the-scenes speculation.

Iraq experts and military analysts say Hussein might hunker down in his hometown of Tikrit, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad.

There, he could take cover in underground bunkers or even hills not far away, said Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Hussein's palace near Tikrit has four entrances, with a car parked at each, motor running, ready for a quick getaway, according to former bodyguard Jassem Abdullah. It also houses bunkers that can hold 1,000 people, along with a command post, armory, medical bays and rooms for decontaminating those exposed to toxins.

Hussein also could take refuge in one of several trucks that have been outfitted for him to live in for days at a time, while moving.

But it is in Baghdad that Hussein has concentrated most of his personal safety apparatus.

There, he has at least a dozen palaces, many of which are connected with underground tunnels.

One underground bunker complex, considered Hussein's main command post, takes more than 20 seconds by elevator to descend to, according to Con Coughlin, author of Saddam: King of Terror. It is believed to be protected by a 16-foot shell of reinforced concrete. Reputed to be there, more than 200 feet underground, are a movie theater, hospital, sports facility and several stores.

Other bunkers are reported to have been dug beneath civilian hospitals and schools _ structures U.S. warplanes would be wary of striking.

Hussein also claims more than 400 above-ground hiding places in Baghdad and employs several "body doubles" and elaborate vehicle decoys.

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