U.S. officials put a $25-million price Thursday on Saddam Hussein, hoping to generate tips and information that will lead them to the deposed leader whose presence remains pervasive in Iraq.
Rewards of $15-million each were also set for Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, both leading figures in the brutal regime that U.S.-led forces crushed.
In Washington, a leading senator on intelligence issues said that Hussein most likely is still alive.
The rewards were announced in Baghdad by L. Paul Bremer, the head of the civilian authority that is working to rebuild Iraq and help establish a new government.
"I have certainly not forgotten Saddam Hussein and his sons, among the most evil men the world has known," Bremer said in a message broadcast to Iraqis. "They may or may not still be alive. Until we know for sure, their names will continue to cast a shadow of fear over this country."
A U.S. official in Baghdad said there has been a recent increase in people coming forward with information about top-ranking figures in the former Iraqi regime, and it was hoped the reward offer could make the difference in locating Hussein.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said intelligence experts believe Hussein survived attempts to kill the Iraqi leadership. One such attempt was the bombing of Baghdad bunkers on March 20, the opening night of the war. Another occurred on April 7, when jets struck a Baghdad-area restaurant.
"I would say that it's maybe 60/40 that the intelligence would say he's still alive," Roberts told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Roberts, who on Thursday returned from Iraq as part of a nine-member Senate delegation, said American officials are zeroing in on the Iraqi neighborhoods where they believe Hussein and his sons are hiding. "There are several specific areas that our intelligence shows us where we think he is. That noose is ever tightening," he said.
Many observers think Hussein may be hiding in Iraq with vast amounts of money, although it has been about three months since he was last reported seen.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said he authorized the large rewards Thursday morning, told reporters in Washington, "We believe it's important to do everything we can to determine his whereabouts, whether he is alive or dead, in order to assist in stabilizing the situation, letting the people of Baghdad be absolutely sure that he's not coming back."
Several Senate Armed Services Committee members who just returned from Iraq left no doubt that they view resolving Hussein's status as vital in the reconstruction of Iraq. Senators of both parties spoke of the fright still existing among Iraqis, calling Hussein's presence a "shadow" and a "specter" hanging over the country.
"There is a fear that he will return, that he will come back," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "And that fear prevents us from making progress as rapidly as we otherwise would, and that fear emboldens those who would attack our troops."
But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, also said attacks aren't being coordinated by Hussein, who is "slinking around, each day hiding and running."
"Believe me, he's not 10 feet tall. He's damned near 10 feet in the ground," Warner said.
The reward offers on Hussein and his sons are part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, with the high amounts authorized by the USA Patriot Act of 2001.
Each of the top suspected leaders of al-Qaida, the terror network responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, has a posted reward of $25-million as well.
A State Department spokesman said Thursday that no money in the rewards program has been paid for information related to the capture of any of the al-Qaida suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks.
_ Information from Cox News Service and Hearst Newspapers was used in this report.
MARCH 20: The United States begins the war against Iraq with a strike by cruise missiles and bombs on a military command-and-control complex, Dora Farms, in southern Baghdad where the top Iraqi leadership, including Saddam Hussein and his sons, was believed to be hiding. Officials say later that they are uncertain whether he was there.
APRIL 4: Iraqi television broadcasts two videotapes showing Hussein, including one in which he made reference to the downing of an American Apache helicopter on March 24, but American officials say it is unclear when the tapes were made.
APRIL 7: A second attempt to kill Hussein and his sons is made with a bombing attack on a building in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, where two intelligence sources said they were meeting. The site is later searched for DNA evidence, but no results have been revealed.
APRIL 9: According to several Iraqis, Hussein, his son Qusay and his top aide and bodyguard, Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, appear outside a mosque in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad. American intelligence analysts say they cannot confirm the appearance.
APRIL 18: An Abu Dhabi television network broadcasts a videotape it says was made on April 9 showing Hussein surrounded by supporters in Baghdad. American intelligence officials say the tape appears to have been made earlier.
JUNE 16: American military officials capture Mahmoud, Hussein's top aide. The New York Times later reports that Mahmoud told American interrogators that the Iraqi leader and his two sons had survived the war and that the sons had fled to Syria before being expelled by Syrian authorities.
JUNE 19: American intelligence officials say they intercepted communications among Hussein's followers indicating that they believe he is alive. But intelligence analysts say the reports do not indicate his whereabouts.
JUNE 22: Defense officials say they are investigating whether a strike on a three-vehicle convoy fleeing Iraq near the Syrian border on June 18 killed top officials in the Iraqi government, perhaps including Hussein or his sons, according to the Washington Post.
_ SOURCES: New York Times, Washington Post