Advertisement

Saddam's captured; Iraq, world celebrates

By BETH POTTER

BAGHDAD, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday night in a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, ending the search for Iraq's most-wanted man nearly eight months after his country fell to U.S.-led coalition forces.

U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other officials welcomed the capture, but warned that it did not mean the end of the anti-coalition violence in Iraq.

Advertisement

Paul L. Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, announced Sunday news of Saddam's capture.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," Bremer told a news conference to shouts and tears, and celebratory gunfire outside.

In Washington, Bush in a live broadcast at 12:15 p.m. Sunday said the capture meant the close of a chapter of violence in Iraq's history.

"You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again," he told the Iraqi people. "...A hopeful day has arrived."

Bush warned Americans, however, not to expect an end to the escalating violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of American and allied troops.

"Their work continues and so does the risk," he said. "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq."

Advertisement

Saddam was captured in a rural farmhouse in Adwar, some 10 miles near his hometown, Tikrit at 8:26 p.m. Saturday, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, of Task Force Iron Horse, said in a news conference in Tikrit.

Saddam had a long beard, scraggly hair and was cooperative with U.S. troops who found him, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground troops in Iraq, during a separate news conference in Baghdad. Sanchez described Saddam's hiding place as a "spider hole." He was identified by former colleagues now in detention, Sanchez said, and was being kept in an undisclosed location.

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

Although it is "a significant event for the Iraqi people ... our work here still continues," Odierno said.

He said several different U.S. units were involved the in the operation that led to Saddam's capture.

"We tried to work with family and tribal ties," he said, outlining the method in which the former Iraqi leader was captured.

He said that during the past 10 days, U.S. forces had taken in between five and 10 members of leading families for questioning.

Advertisement

"We finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals," Odierno said.

A coalition official in Baghdad told United Press International there may have been an element of luck involved.

"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 was captured without resistance and appeared a bit disoriented as he came up, he said. Two bodyguards, who ran way as U.S. troops approached the hideout, were also apprehended, he said. Also recovered were weapons and $750,000 in cash. He was helicoptered south, Odierno said, presumably to Baghdad.

Saddam has been "talkative," the coalition official said. "I believe we will be able to get some actionable intelligence over the next few days."

In Baghdad, bursts of celebratory gunfire welcomed news of the capture, but streets quickly returned to normal as people questioned whether the man in U.S. custody was really their former president.

"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.

Advertisement

In fact, at least one soldier was hurt from falling bullets when he was hit in the Achilles tendon, the official said.

U.S. and Iraqi workers clapped and cheered in the ornate banquet hall of the former Republican Guard palace at lunch time. Saddam used to run the country from the palace with his elite Republican Guard troops; it is now a command and control center of U.S.-led administrators and coalition forces.

Security in the palace was slightly stepped up, with some additional plain-clothes guards with guns standing in front of the door to Bremer's office. Several civilians in the palace put on bulletproof vests and carried helmets.

Members of the U.S.-led Governing Council drove around in big SUVs, with horns and Arabic music blaring, and encouraged other drivers to join in with an impromptu parade. They were largely ignored. The temporary government has been accused of not representing people on the streets of Iraq, though their members are expected to have an upper hand in any future government.

Governing Council 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."

Advertisement

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

People walking on a busy street downtown had mixed views about whether the former dictator had actually been captured. One man questioned how U.S. troops knew they had captured the right man, and asked how long it takes to do DNA testing.

Several others said they always knew Saddam would be caught, but questioned how long it will take for the economy to get better now that he's not in power.

"If the economic situation remains bad, everyone can become Saddam Hussein to the Americans," said Nameh Fahed, 38, a taxi driver, as he waited for fares. "The justification for Americans to be here was to get Saddam. Now they should get out."

Another man said even if he doesn't support a movement of former regime fighters, he still felt some sadness that the formerly feared leader did not put up a fight.

"Saddam now seems like a normal person. I'm not sure how to feel," said Khalid Issa, 48, a construction foreman. "He persuaded people to support him with money, food, gas and security. If all of those are provided now by a new government, no one will feel the need to fight."

Advertisement

One of the Americans heading up reconstruction in Iraq said he hoped the capture would bring calm to the country. "Anything that contributes to the increased security and stability in the country will help non-governmental organizations do their jobs," said Lewis Lucke, mission director for the U.S. Agency for International Development. "There was a residual fear that the Baathists would come back. Now, the head of the Baathists is gone."

A U.S. soldier said capturing Saddam Hussein is an important symbol to the Iraq people that he cannot 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."


(With additional reporting by Pamela Hess at the Pentagon and Richard Tomkins at the White House.)

Latest Headlines

Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us

Advertisement