Task Force 20’s latest chapter in the hunt for Hussein involved dozens of US troops backed by air support. They swooped on at least two homes in the toppled leader’s hometown of Tikrit, seizing the bodyguard and three other Ba’athists.

Officials from the Fourth Infantry Division (4ID), who captured the four loyalists, were cautious over the latest arrests, saying there are dozens of former bodyguards in Tikrit.

However Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell was more optimistic. he said: "Every guy we get tightens the noose. Every photo and every document connects the dots."

Over the weekend 4ID arrested 13 former bodyguards as tips over the whereabouts of loyalists came flooding into the US military.

American troops have intensified their search for Hussein after the killing of his two sons Uday and Qusay last week when US forces pounded a villa in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul where they were hiding.

Occupation forces were informed of the brothers' whereabouts by a tip from a local man, who has since then been placed under US custody protection. 

Since then, the US military’s use of force has come under scrutiny. Iraqis were furious when Task Force 20, an elite unit created specially to track down Hussein, launched a raid in the Baghdad residential neighbourhood of Mansour, killing five bystanders, including a teenage boy.

Military officials failed to capture Hussein in that operation. Some US army sources said it was unclear whether the ousted leader was there.

While some hawks in the White House have increasingly indicated they would like Hussein to be killed, Britain’s new envoy to Iraqi Sir Jeremy Greenstock said it was important for the ousted leader to be captured alive and brought to trial.