U.S. intelligence had solid information from multiple sources that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein went inside a building and didn't leave before it was struck by an American bomber Monday, U.S. officials said.
One intelligence source was believed to be an eyewitness who watched him go inside. No one would discuss the identity or characterize the credibility of the witness.
Intelligence officials, who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity, stopped well short of declaring Saddam dead. They described the information as encouraging, but not conclusive.
"We may have got him. We just don't know. It's clear that nobody's in charge, that nobody's getting any direction," said one official. "He's gone way underground, literally or figuratively."
Military officials in the region said Saddam doesn't appear to be in control.
"I don't think the regime is maintaining influence over hardly any of the military forces any more," said Capt. Frank Thorp at U.S. Central Command headquarters. "The fighting we see from the Iraqi military, although sometimes fierce, is not organized in any way shape or form."
The U.S. military should maintain a presence in central Baghdad for the foreseeable future to convince the Iraqi people that Saddam is no longer in power, commanders said.
"That's the next mental jump, is for the Iraqis to realize that even if he (Saddam Hussein) is still alive, he's not in charge anymore," said Col. David Perkins, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, in downtown Baghdad.
On Monday, U.S. intelligence learned that Saddam and his sons, Qusai and Odai, were possibly going to attend a meeting with Iraqi intelligence officials in a building in the al-Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad.
The site was in the same general part of Baghdad where Iraqi television had shown Saddam being mobbed by supporters on Friday, officials said.
The intelligence information was passed to U.S. Central Command, which directed a B-1B bomber to the site. Forty-five minutes later, it dropped four guided bombs.
"We characterize that strike as being very, very effective," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told a news conference Tuesday. "What we have for battle damage assessment right now is essentially a hole in the ground ... where we believed high-value targets were."
Three houses were destroyed. It was unclear who was within, and whether there were any survivors. Tuesday, Iraqi rescue workers recovered bodies from the debris with a bulldozer. The body of a child and part of a young woman were pulled from the site.
Two of the bombs dropped were bunker-busters, designed to penetrate underground tunnels. However, officials said they had no specific information that there were underground facilities at the site. The bombs were apparently dropped in case there were.
The target was not a restaurant, as some officials had reported, but a site near that restaurant, officials said.
The fate of Saddam's sons is also unknown.