"Saddam Hussein is in good health and living in the west of Iraq," a tribal leader who called himself Abu Muhammad said on Saturday.

"The Iraqi president is commanding the military operations against the American occupation forces," the Saddam follower said, claiming that he was involved in the struggle.

The man added that he had met Saddam, who pays unannounced visits to Iraqis.

"There is no risk to him in the west because people are defending him and will never betray him," he added.

However, the commander of US forces Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez said that Saddam's role remained unclear.

"We have not established conclusively that Saddam has established command and control," he told reporters travelling with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"But we are going on the assumption that he is in the country, that he is moving around, and that's what we're pursuing," he said.

'Saddam attended meeting'

"There is no risk to him in the west because people are defending him and will never betray him"

Abu Muhammad
Iraqi tribal leader

Meanwhile, a Baath politician said he was trying to set up a party to support the resistance movement.

The politician said Saddam had attended a meeting of "dozens of Baath Party cadres" at Ramadi, 100km west of Baghdad, at a meal to break the daily fast during Ramadan.

A Baath dissident confirmed the secret meeting, saying that it took place on 8 November.

On the same day in Ramadi, Gen John Abizaid, commanding officer of US Central Command, was discussing with tribal leaders how to halt attacks on the US forces.