There is a deathly and aggressive tension in which resentment to occupation is all too obvious.

Yet, despite the large number of US forces here, it is likely the ousted president is in this part of the Salah al-Din province.

Saddam Hussein was of the al-Majid tribe - a sub-section of the al-Bijat tribe, itself a branch of the Albu Nasir – whose head, Shaikh Mahmud al-Nada, is a cousin and look-a-like of the former Iraqi leader.

Fugitive protection

The shaikh is still an influential man. During Saddam's rule, ministers would give up their chair to him when he visited.

"They burst in – they don't ask. The women in the house are not given an opportunity to wear their hijab as is their right, but worse – they continue to point weapons in peoples' faces – a practice which demonstrates their fear"

Shaikh Mahmud al-Nada,
head of al-Majid tribe

Al-Nada was the one who arranged for Qusay, Uday and 14-year-old Mustafa to be brought to the family graveyard and who had the Iraqi flags laid on their tombs.

With the lack of security and resentment felt in Tikrit, many ordinary Iraqis say tribal strength and importance is on the rise - as is their ability to protect and hide.

Dakhil is the Arab word for a man on the run who pleads for tribal protection. Once given, a tribesman would rather die than give up any information. The shame of handing over a fugitive would be worse than death.

The $25 million dead-or-alive reward is highly unlikely to achieve results.

Meeting Saddam's cousin

"Where is Saddam Hussein?" was a question I had been told not to ask, but the opportunity was too good to pass by.

Shaikh Mahmud took out a cigarette and began to answer a different question.

"He is a man of extremes. He's extreme in his generosity but extreme in his injustice and stubborn in his mistakes.

"Party democracy will never work – it is too divisive in multi-cultural and ethnic societies like ours – I believe the return of the monarchy is the only feasible solution to our problems. It was a mistake that Iraq ever became a republic.

"The best days Iraq ever saw were when there was a king – I never remember any ethnic or religious divisions in those days."

The shaikh also described the intolerable nature of occupation.

No respect

"My nephew was arrested 16 days ago. I have been told he is to be released every day for the past 10 days – and each day I am disappointed to discover I am being lied to.

Shaikh Mahmud al-Nada bears a
striking resemblance to his cousin

"I am asked the same questions every day and am not left to live my remaining days out in peace."

The last thorough search of his home was only last month, "but I am asked about Saddam's whereabouts almost every other day."

"They burst in – they don't ask. The women in the house are not given an opportunity to wear their hijab as is their right, but worse, they continue to point weapons in peoples' faces – a practice which demonstrates their fear."

Protests

Before driving out of town, I stopped to drink tea while watching schoolchildren and young men wave pictures of Saddam Hussein at American soldiers.

I asked one 18-year old schoolboy, Hussein, whether he liked the former president.

"Honestly, he was a dog and the son of a dog. But this really irritates the Americans – and that makes me happy," he said laughing.

My driver tapped me on the hand and told me to follow - he had spotted someone I might like to interview.

Sure enough, I was sitting next to a Saddam in-law – who cannot be named. He was happy to tell Aljazeera.net what he thought of Saddam and Iraq's occupation.

The graves of Saddam's mother
and stepfather

Growing anger

"When I see the Americans here, I feel like my throat is being squeezed," he said.

He straightens his shimagh, or headdress, and looks at a Humvee with two soldiers in it, not 200m away.

"I'm sure if Americans had Iraqi troops patrolling their streets, searching their houses, stopping their cars and pointing guns at their women and children - they would be the first to resist.

"Who is this Bremmer? What on earth is he doing in Baghdad? By what right does he make decisions for our country and our people?

"What right do Americans have to put the soles of their boots on the back of Iraqi necks when they make arrests? What right do they have to put bags over Iraqi heads? But let them continue, for every day they act like this – more will come to take part in fighting them."

Uncertain future

"Saddam is safe because nobody – even those who hate him – would ever think to hand him in. The vast majority here would rather have him back than continue with this occupation – ask anyone you like, and you'll see."

"I'm sure if Americans had Iraqi troops patrolling their streets, searching their houses, stopping their cars and pointing guns at their women and children - they would be the first to resist"

Saddam in-law

On the outskirts of the town is a graveyard where Hussein's parents and sons are buried.

All water supplies to the site have been stopped; the woods planted around the site are dying. The grass has turned yellow and the soil to dust. A total silence pervades.

I found Qusay and Uday's graves.

Occupation forces had removed the Iraq flag that once covered them. Moreover, the doors to the grave of Saddam's mother were broken open – the plaque to her tomb removed as a war trophy.

But Saddam is not gone. Walking around alone, there is an eerie feeling of being watched. 

Until he is caught, many Iraqis will always be looking over their shoulders, wondering if a man who controlled their lives for more than 20 years may still have some final part to play.