A senior Iraqi official tipped off the US CIA, telling Washington where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would be sleeping on the eve of the war, Newsweek magazine reports.
After months of US intelligence groundwork, the magazine quoted an unnamed "knowledgeable intelligence source" as saying Delta Force, the secret commando group, "managed to tap Saddam's underground phone lines in Baghdad.
"The real break came when the CIA managed to recruit an asset, a senior Iraqi official in a position to know Saddam's greatest vulnerability: where he sleeps each night," the newsweekly added in its report due on newsstands Monday.
"Saddam, who had stayed alive and in power for more than three decades by never sleeping in one place for long, had to trust at least a few bodyguards. He made the rare mistake of relying on one henchman who was more afraid of the United States than he was of Saddam Hussein," the report says.
"The Iraqi official 'weighed the balance of fear,' a senior administration official told Newsweek. "The Iraqi turncoat told his intelligence handlers that on the night of March 19, Saddam, probably accompanied by his sons Uday and Qusay, was sleeping in a bunker beneath a nondescript house in a residential area of Baghdad."
"At the CIA, Director George Tenet got the tip shortly before 3:00 pm (11:00 pm Baghdad time). ... Tenet raced to the Pentagon, bursting in on Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as he met with his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. The air war -- the astonishing first wave of "shock and awe," hundreds of warheads raining down on Baghdad -- was scheduled to begin the next night. But here was a chance to end the war before it even began. If Saddam and his henchmen could be killed in a "decapitating strike," hundreds and maybe thousands of lives could be saved.
Tenet, Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers went to meet President George W Bush, who "considered but rejected the argument that Saddam be given until 8 pm to respond to the ultimatum that he leave Iraq or face the consequences."
"At Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, General Tommy Franks ordered two F-117 stealth fighters, each carrying two 2,000-pound bunker busters, into the air from their bases in Qatar. At 7:12 pm, President Bush said, 'Let's go.'," the report adds.
"The planes slipped through; their bombs struck home at about 9:30 pm, 5:30 am Baghdad time," Newsweek reported. "The CIA's spy, who was somewhere outside the bunker, reported that Saddam was inside. There were reports of rescue workers furiously digging in the rubble and that Saddam had been wounded. But was Saddam still alive? The CIA's spy didn't know or couldn't say."