The US sought to regain the initiative in its battle with the increasingly well-organized Iraqi resistance last night by announcing $1m (£560,000) rewards for 12 of Saddam Hussein's closest allies.
Officials of the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad said the money would be paid to anyone who gave information leading to their death or capture - a tactic that proved successful before, leading to the discovery of Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay.
The US has offered a $10m reward for Izzat Ibrahim, the 13th remaining fugitive and Iraq's most wanted man after Saddam, who was found near Tikrit. Mr Ibrahim was Saddam's Ba'ath party deputy, and a close confidante. Some officials say he is coordinating the resistance to the occupation.
American troops have captured or killed 42 people on the original list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis shown on the "pack of cards" compiled by American intelligence agencies before the war.
"Now that we've captured Saddam Hussein we want to capitalize on this to clear up the last remnants of the former regime," Charles Heatly, the British spokesman for the coalition's administrator, Paul Bremer, said at the weekend.
"We are now focused on capturing the final dozen or so of their oppressors who remain from the deck of 55, as well as other ringleaders."
But the capture of more than two-thirds of Saddam's closest aides has made little difference to the insurgency, which, if anything, appears to be getting worse.
Twice as many American soldiers have been killed or wounded in action in the past four months as in the previous four, despite their commanders' claim to have made significant gains against the resistance. The dramatic rise suggests that Iraqi resistance fighters have become better skilled and organized.
The growing toll of wounded and dead troops has not altered a prevailing sense among Americans that it was right to go to war on Iraq: in a Washington Post-ABC television poll this month, 59% of respondents said the war was worth fighting.
Nevertheless, the US public is growing weary of casualties, with 64% saying the war had exacted too heavy a toll.
Yesterday a US soldier and two Iraqi children were killed by a roadside bomb in a crowded Baghdad district. Five other US soldiers and nine Iraqis - an interpreter and eight members of the civil defense corps - were wounded. Another soldier was killed and three wounded near Falluja.
The explosion in Baghdad came after a big assault by the Iraqi resistance in the city of Kerbala on Saturday, which killed two Thai and four Bulgarian soldiers, and 12 Iraqis.
Three suicide bombers were killed before they could blow themselves up, but a fourth rammed into a Bulgarian military base, said a spokesman for the Polish-led force in the city. Yesterday another Bulgarian soldier died after suffering injuries in Saturday's attack.
Thai and Bulgarian soldiers form part of the multinational force of 9,500 troops in south-central Iraq. Yesterday, Thailand said it had no plans to pull its force out.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003