ALLIED commanders were today checking whether Saddam Hussein has cheated death for a second time after they launched a new "decapitation" strike on a target in Baghdad.
Bunker-buster bombs were dropped on the building in the Al Mansour residential area after intelligence from three separate sources indicated the Iraqi dictator was meeting there with his sons Qusai and Uday, and other senior regime figures.
The attack happened yesterday, but details only emerged this morning as US forces continued to surge into the heart of Baghdad.
According to reports, Iraqi authorities denied any leadership figures were hit in the attack, but claimed eight civilians were killed.
Today, US troops mounted an air and tank assault on Baghdad to repel an Iraqi counterattack. Iraqi fighters had entered the capital in a convoy of buses and trucks. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed, and two US soldiers were wounded.
Marines were fighting for control of a vital bridge over the Tigris as they sought to take over the heart of Baghdad. Two tanks could be seen on the bridge, which leads to the centre of the city, where many key Iraqi government buildings are located.
The push was supported by A10 tankbusters which directed bursts of cannon fire at buildings to quell resistance.
A B-1B bomber led the attack on the leadership target. According to the Washington Times, senior regime figures were meeting in a bunker behind or underneath the al-Saa restaurant.
The air strike followed one of the strongest intelligence tip-offs since the initial night of bombing, three weeks ago, when air strikes were launched earlier than planned in a bid to kill Saddam.
Three neighbouring houses were reported destroyed in the attack.
Marine Major Brad Bartelt, a spokesman for US Central Command in Qatar, said: "We are confirming that a leadership target was indeed hit very hard."
A massive crater was left at the scene of the blast and nearby trees were uprooted.
Asked about the attack, Maj Gen Peter Wall, chief of staff of UK forces at Central Command in Qatar, said: "We don't know the precise outcome. What we do know is that this is about much more than whether Saddam and his two sons are actually alive because it's about bringing down the whole regime. …