- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

U.S. soldiers found a bearded, grimy-looking Saddam Hussein cowering in a hole under a dirt floor and took into custody a disoriented man who didn’t put up much of a fight.

“He was in the bottom of a hole, so there was no way he could fight back,” Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno said in Tikrit yesterday. “He was just caught like a rat.”

The capture, at 8:26 p.m. Saturday Iraq time, marked the climax of a raid by about 600 soldiers on a ramshackle compound at the edge of Adwar, a village about nine miles south of Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown and a Ba’ath Party stronghold.

Working on an hours-old tip that Saddam was in the area, the raiders combed through the mud-walled compound, not far from the banks of the Tigris River, said Gen. Odierno, who heads the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, a unit that missed most of the war because of political haggling with Turkey.

The raid, dubbed “Operation Red Dawn,” was carried out by special operations forces and the 4th Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, headed by Col. Jim Hickey.

Just before 11 a.m. Saturday, military officials had “received intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s possible whereabouts,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Gen. Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq, said Saddam’s activities had been narrowed in the past several months through “a combination of human intelligence tips … analytical efforts and detainee interrogations.”

Two possible locations for Saddam were identified near the town of Adwar and, beginning about 6 p.m. under the cover of darkness, the locations were raided. But Saddam was not found.

Then, the 1st Brigade Combat Team began a search of the area and came upon a small, suspicious-looking walled compound to the northwest of where the initial raid took place.

Describing the compound as consisting of two farmhouses, a field and a sheep den, Gen. Odierno said the hole where Saddam was hiding was positioned inside a hut near the middle of the compound.

Soldiers checking the hut noticed something unusual about a rug on the ground. The rug turned to be sitting on top of a styrofoam cover cut to fit snugly over the hole.

Lifting the rug and cover exposed an 8-feet-deep hole with enough space inside for a person to lie down. The bearded man crouched at the bottom of the hole carried a pistol, but he did not use it.

“There was no resistance of any sort,” Gen. Odierno said.

When soldiers pulled him from the hole, Saddam was “very much bewildered” and “didn’t say hardly anything at all as he first was taken in.” Military officials later discovered a pipe used for ventilation inside the hole.

Commanders knew their target — “We thought it was Saddam,” Gen. Odierno said — but the soldiers didn’t.

“We were told that we would be looking for some really big fish — nothing more,” one soldier who participated in the raid told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The arrest was not immediately announced, as it was not a certainty that the bearded man was the fugitive dictator, who often used look-alikes. Gen. Odierno said within an hour, the man was “taken by helicopter south.”

Two other men, described by military officials as “affiliated with Saddam” also were captured — outside the compound trying to run from the soldiers who later found Saddam.

Confiscated in the raid were two AK-47 assault rifles, $750,000 worth of U.S. currency in $100 denominations and a white-and-orange taxicab.

The compound also had a small kitchen and another room where new items of clothing were found, prompting Gen. Odierno to say that it appeared that Saddam had not been there long.

“Based on the fact that he had new clothes still in wrappers and stuff, it makes me think that he was probably there a short period of time,” the general said. In addition to the taxicab, several boats were found docked nearby on the Tigris.

Military officials said pressure on Saddam had become so tight recently that he would have been limited to traveling in small groups. Gen. Odierno said he thought “all along” Saddam was in the area.

“He could have been hiding in a hundred different places, thousand different places like this all around Iraq,” Gen. Odierno said. “It just takes finding the right person who will give you a good idea where he might be. That’s what happened today.”

Saddam’s capture was a major accomplishment for the two-star general and for the 4th Infantry Division, which got left behind at the start of the war.

The 4th Infantry led Task Force Iron Horse, whose helicopters, tanks and other heavy equipment had been deployed on ships to Turkey in the hope that Ankara would allow about 60,000 troops to open a northern front against Iraq. But the United States and Turkey could not seal the deal.

As a result the division had to reroute itself and head through Kuwait to its intended area of operation — the notorious Sunni Triangle, where pockets of resistance against the U.S.-led occupation are the most troublesome.

So the 4th Division, which missed out on the bulk of the war, ended up grabbing the war’s biggest trophy — Saddam himself.

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