- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Without firing a shot, American forces captured a bearded and haggard-looking Saddam Hussein in an underground hide-out on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, ending one of the most intensive manhunts in history. The arrest was a huge victory for U.S. forces battling an insurgency by the ousted dictator’s followers.

In the capital, radio stations played celebratory music, residents fired small arms in the air in celebration and passengers on buses and trucks shouted, “They got Saddam! They got Saddam!” After sundown, large explosions were heard in central Baghdad, and flames and thick smoke were seen; a policeman said there were no casualties.

“The former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions,” President Bush said in a midday televised address from the White House, eight months after American troops swept into Baghdad and toppled Saddam’s regime. “In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived.”

Washington hopes Saddam’s capture will help break the organized Iraq resistance that has killed more than 190 American soldiers since Bush declared major combat over on May 1 and has set back efforts at reconstruction.

But Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which captured Saddam, said the ousted leader did not appear to be directly organizing resistance - noting no communication devices were found in his hiding place. “I believe he was there more for moral support,” Odierno said.

Saddam’s capture was based on information from a member of a family “close to him,” Odierno told reporters in Tikrit.

The crucial information came after prisoners from raids and intelligence tips led to increasingly precise information, as CIA and military analysts gradually narrowed down their list of potential sites where Saddam was staying, a U.S. official said.

The capture took place at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at one of dozens of safehouses Saddam is thought to have: a walled compound on a farm in Adwar, a town 10 miles from Tikrit, not far from one of Saddam’s former palaces, Odierno said.

“I think it’s rather ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from these great palaces that he built,” Odierno said.

The event comes almost five months after his sons, Qusai and Odai, were killed July 22 in a four-hour gunbattle with U.S. troops in a hideout in the northern city of Mosul. There was hope at the time that the sons’ deaths would dampen the Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation. But since then, the guerrilla campaign has mounted dramatically.

In the latest attack, a suspected suicide bomber detonated explosives in a car outside a police station Sunday morning west of Baghdad, killing at least 17 people and wounding 33 more, the U.S. military said. Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier died while trying to disarm a roadside bomb south of the capital - the 452nd soldier to die in Iraq.

Saddam was one of the most-wanted fugitives in the world, along with Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network who has not been caught despite a manhunt since November 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown in Afghanistan.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer told a news conference. “The tyrant is a prisoner.”

Some 600 troops and special forces were involved in the raid that netted Saddam - though not all were aware beforehand that the objective was “High Value Target No. 1,” Odierno said.

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