SADDAM CAPTURED NEAR TIKRIT; IRAQIS JUBILANT
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
FROM NEWS SERVICES, Dec. 14, 2003 -- Saddam Hussein, the feared and despotic ruler of Iraq for more than two decades, was captured alive at a rural farmhouse by the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division Wolverine Combat Team No. 1, a unit of the United States Army's Task Force Iron Horse, near his birthplace of Tikrit at about 8 p.m. Baghdad time Saturday night, the head of the Iraq Authority said Sunday morning.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," L. Paul Bremer III told reporters and jubilant coalition personnel and members of the Iraqi Governing Council. "Not a single shot was fired. Saddam Hussein is talking and is cooperative." Many shopkeepers in Baghdad closed up shops and jammed the streets, firing pistols, waving flags and newspaper headlines and blowing their horns as they cheered and celebrated. Bremer's lower lip trembled with emotion as he watched dozens of soldiers erupt in cheers.
"A hopeful day has arrived," President George Bush told the nation in a televised address that praised American forces involved in the capture. "The operation was carried out with skill and precision by a brave fighting force," the President said. "... I congratulate them."
The President learned of Saddam's capture from National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice at 5:14 a.m in a telephone call to the White House after DNA tests and other examinations of the captive proved it was Saddam. "That is good news," the President reportedly responded.
"The Iraqi people have now been liberated in spirit as well as in fact," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a statement this morning.
The bearded former dictator, missing since March 20, was captured in the town of AdDwar as he crouched in what was described as a "spider hole," a narrow earthen space about eight feet deep and six feet wide, almost in sight of his presidential palaces across the nearby Tigris River. He was armed only with a pistol and was captured without resistance, unharmed and talking freely. He was reportedly disoriented, and video of his examination by American doctors showed a man in late middle age, puffy-faced, tired and drawn, with wild black hair and a thick salt-and-pepper beard. He reportedly struck his head as he was pulled from the hole but was uninjured.
Two other men were captured with Huseein and were taken into custody along with two Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles, $750,000 in U.S. currency and an orange and white taxicab. The disposition of the $25 million reward offered for Saddam's capture was not disclosed, but officials said intelligence from captured former associates and family members of Saddam eventually lead to his capture.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, called for the death penalty to be levied against the former dictator in a statement this morning.
But the events of this week have been a series of triumphs for President Bush, who in the past few days has seen his preferred 2004 opponent, former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, endorsed by former Vice President Al Gore; that was followed by the Dow Jones Average closing above 10,000 for the first time in 18 months on Thursday; and finally by the capture of the man who once tried to kill his father during a visit by former President George H.W. Bush to Kuwait in 1991. An American Reporter analyst suggested it would not be a surprise if the Dow rose 300 points after the opening bell on Monday morning.
On ABC, news show host George Stephanopoulos chatted with guests, one of whom remarked that former Gov. Dean's campaign may be damaged by Saddam's capture, which he said would not have occurred if his calls for withdrawal of U.S. forces had been heeeded. If that observation is correct, the beneficiary of Dean's fall may be U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, who supported the Iraq resolution but has been critical of the President's handling of the conflict. Sen. Kerry is a decorated combat veteran and a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a statement, Sen. Kerry called for President Bush to use the opportunity to make a "magnaminous gesture" to resistance forces in Iraq and then move forward to consolidate the gains of the coalition.
Maj. Gen Ray Odierno, who heads Task Force Iron Horse and Operation Red Dawn, whose units captured Hussein, said he did not believe the former dictator was directly controlling resistance forces in Iraq. No cell phones or other communications gear was discovered with the ex-dictator, he said.
"He was just very disoriented, and then he was taken away," Odierno said.
At the White House at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, President George W. Bush hailed the "swift raid" and said "now the fomer dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions."
"There will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held" for the members of Saddam's former ruling Baathist party, President Bush vowed.
"You will not have to fear" the inhuman rule of Saddam any longer, the President told the Iraqi people. And the President warned Americans that Saddam's capture "does not mean the end of violence."
A bomb blast in Baghdad before Saddam's capture killed at least 17 Iraqi policemen, news reports said.
A later explosion in Baghdad who struck just after the President spoke early this afternoon were explained as the result of a falling bullet, apparently fired in celebration, that struck gas canisters in a passing Jeep.
Flames and thick smoke rose from the area of the explosion, NBC News said at 1:45 p.m. EST. The blast was earlier described as a car bomb.