- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

BAGHDAD — U.S. authorities yesterday announced the capture of a pinched and wretched-looking Saddam Hussein in a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, ending an intensive eight-month search for the world’s most wanted man.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” said L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, at the opening of a stunning Baghdad news conference. Iraqi journalists led the audience in a spontaneous burst of cheers and applause, which was soon followed by shouts, tears and celebratory gunfire in the streets outside.

The capture ended one of the biggest manhunts in history after dozens of false leads and heartened a U.S.-led coalition that hoped the arrest would be a turning point in the struggle to restore stability to Iraq.

Acting on a tip, a U.S. task force seized Saddam at a rural farmhouse in Adwar, 10 miles from his hometown of Tikrit, at 8:26 p.m. Saturday (Iraqi time), said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which arrested him.

The dejected former dictator, captured with a bushy salt-and-pepper beard and scraggly hair that had to be searched for lice, did not resist arrest, the general said at a news conference in Tikrit.

“There was no way he could fight back, so he was just caught like a rat,” Gen. Odierno said.

Gun-firing Baghdad residents poured into the streets at the news, in equal measure thrilled at the arrest of the tyrant and shocked that Saddam meekly had surrendered without a fight. Many said the humiliation would take the heart out of those continuing to fight in his name.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground troops in Iraq, said during a news conference in Baghdad that Saddam was cooperating with his captors “and is talkative,” although other reports said he was giving up little of value.

Gen. Sanchez described Saddam’s hiding place — a 6-by-8-foot underground crawl hole with a Styrofoam lid covered with dirt and rugs — as a “spider hole.”

The Pentagon released a diagram showing a shorter tunnel branching out horizontally from one side of the hole and a ventilation pipe leading to the surface.

The general said the prisoner had been positively identified by former colleagues now in detention — including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, according to one report — and was being kept at an undisclosed location. His identity also was confirmed with DNA testing.

“We are in the process of doing more conclusive tests, but we had positive identification on him from some other detainees,” Gen. Sanchez said.

Gen. Odierno said in Tikrit that 600 troops and Special Forces from a number of military units were involved in the operation that led to Saddam’s capture.

“We tried to work with family and tribal ties,” he said, adding that from five to 10 members of leading families had been taken in for questioning during the past 10 days.

“We finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals,” Gen. Odierno said, adding that Saddam appeared to have been there for only a short time.

Gen. Sanchez declined to comment on whether anyone would receive a $25 million reward that had been offered for information leading to Saddam’s capture.

The arrest comes almost five months after Saddam’s two sons, Qusai and Uday, were killed in a firefight at a house in the northern city of Mosul on July 22.

A coalition official in Baghdad told United Press International that Saddam’s hiding space was almost overlooked.

“It was sort of lucky they found him, because they originally thought the intelligence led to a dry hole … something all the units are used to, given the Saddam search over the last few months,” the official said.

Saddam appeared a bit disoriented as he came out of his hole, the coalition official said.

He said two bodyguards, who ran away as U.S. troops approached the hide-out, also were apprehended. Also recovered were weapons and $750,000 in cash, but the soldiers found no communications devices that might have been used to coordinate attacks on U.S. forces.

A U.S. commander told the Associated Press that the troops discovered “descriptive written material of significant value.”

Gen. Odierno said Saddam, who was found with a pistol but made no effort to use it, later was flown south in a helicopter, presumably to Baghdad. His present whereabouts were not disclosed.

The satellite TV station Al Arabiya, based in Qatar, reported that Saddam had been taken to that country, but there was no confirmation of the report.

Although early reports said Saddam has been “talkative,” last night U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said so far Saddam has refused to give any intelligence information.

“He has not been cooperative in terms of talking or anything like that,” Mr. Rumsfeld told CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

In Baghdad, bursts of celebratory gunfire welcomed news of the capture; one such bullet came down in a car filled with gasoline igniting an explosion that initially was mistaken for a car bomb, according to reports. A U.S. soldier was hit in the ankle by another falling bullet.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, eight persons were killed and 80 wounded by shots fired in the air during celebrations of the capture, said hospital official Shehab Ahmed.

“The mood here [is] interesting,” the coalition official said. “Lots of euphoria among some parts of the city. … The celebratory fire is amazing.

“It’s loud, it’s noisy and it’s dangerous,” the official said.

Security was stepped up in the former Republican Guard palace in Baghdad, now a command and control center of U.S.-led administrators and coalition forces, for fear of retaliatory attacks. Extra plainclothes guards with guns stood in front of Mr. Bremer’s office, and several civilians wore bulletproof vests and carried helmets.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council drove through Baghdad in SUVs with horns and Arabic music blaring, encouraging other drivers to join an impromptu parade, though few took part. Many Iraqis were waiting to be convinced that Saddam had really been captured.

It was to settle such doubts that the coalition released videotape of a bedraggled Saddam being examined by a doctor who peered down his throat and poked through his hair for lice.

IGC member Ahmad Chalabi told Iraqi Television that Saddam “will be given a fair and public trial, so that the Iraqi people will see that he is punished for the crimes he committed.”

Mr. Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, described the former president as a “criminal who killed the Iraqi people” and said his capture “has removed the nightmare of the Iraqi people.”

One of the Americans heading up reconstruction in Iraq said he hoped the capture would help end the violence that has bedeviled coalition efforts.

“Anything that contributes to the increased security and stability in the country will help nongovernmental organizations do their jobs,” said Lewis Lucke, mission director for the U.S. Agency for International Development. “There was a residual fear that the Ba’athists would come back. Now, the head of the Ba’athists is gone.”

A U.S. soldier said Saddam’s capture demonstrated to the Iraq people that he never will return to power.

“I think the Iraqi people will be free to start their future now,” said Master Sgt. Seth Mabus, who works in the Combined Joint Task Force-7 center, coordinating military operations in Iraq.

“The coalition is going to persevere. It’s not just about him, it’s about the rest of the country as well.”

UPI writers Pamela Hess and Richard Tomkins contributed to this report in Washington.


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