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Iraq: Saddam Hussein Captured Near Tikrit

Prague, 14 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who has eluded coalition forces for eight months, was captured on 13 December in a massive operation in Al-Dawr, located some 15 kilometers south of Tikrit.

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer made the announcement at a 14 December press conference in Baghdad, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him." "For decades hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man. For decades, Saddam Hussein divided you citizens against each other. For decades he threatened and attacked your neighbors. Those days are over forever," Bremer said.

U.S. commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told the same press conference that 600 soldiers from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, along with Special Forces, engineers, and air support launched Operation Red Dawn in the early evening hours, having identified two possible locations, codenamed Wolverine One and Wolverine Two.

Soldiers were acting on an "actionable intelligence" that came earlier in the day, Sanchez said. He also told reporters that "a combination of human intelligence tips, exceptional intelligence, analytical efforts, and detainee interrogations" in recent weeks helped locate the whereabouts of Hussein. U.S. forces did not initially find Hussein at the two suspected locations, but later found him after cordoning off the area and conducting an intensive search, Sanchez said.

Hussein was found hiding in a "spider hole," nearly 2 meters below ground, just outside a mud hut that is located inside a walled compound. The hole had its own ventilation system. U.S. forces captured two individuals along with Hussein, identified by Iraqi Governing Council members as bodyguards, along with $750,000 worth of $100 bills, two assault rifles, one handgun, and a taxi. Sanchez told reporters that no shots were fired during the operation, and Hussein "has been talkative and is being cooperative." He added that Hussein appeared "a tired man," and "a man resigned to his fate."

U.S. Major General Ray Odierno gave a press conference in Tikrit today, telling reporters that coalition forces had checked the same location in earlier searches. He said he suspected that Hussein had hid in several similar locations across Iraq, and had probably changed his location every three hours. He said that Hussein was very disoriented when he was initially captured, adding that the two individuals captured with Hussein tried to flee when U.S. forces arrived on the scene, but were apprehended. He said Hussein had new clothes still in wrappers when he was apprehended.

Odierno also told reporters that no telecommunications equipment or telephones were found with Hussein, adding that he never believed that Hussein was directing nationwide attacks against Iraqis and coalition forces in Iraq. He also said that the hut was located alongside the Tigris River, and that small boats were docked nearby, which may have been used by individuals to visit Hussein or transport goods to him. He added that tribes and family members of Hussein had provided coalition forces with information on the possible location of the deposed leader over several weeks.

Iraqi Governing Council members Adnan Pachachi, Ahmad Chalabi, Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, and Adil Abd al-Mahdi also gave a press conference to reporters in Baghdad on 14 December, saying that they had seen and spoken to Hussein. Adnan Pachachi, former Iraqi foreign minister, and now head of the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement said that Hussein looked tired and haggard, and that he was unrepentant and defiant, telling the governing council members that he had been a firm, but just ruler. "Our answer was that he was an unjust ruler responsible for the death of thousands of Iraqis," Pachachi told reporters, adding that Hussein did not "express any remorse". Adil Abd al-Mahdi told reporters that Hussein sounded "cynical" when speaking to the council members.

Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress said Hussein didn't feel the need to apologize for his despotic rule over Iraq. Chalabi also confirmed to reporters that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had a role in located Hussein. "Kosrat Rasul [head of the PUK's Political Bureau] had a role in uncovering the hideout of Saddam yesterday," Chalabi said. Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i confirmed that Hussein would be tried for crimes against the Iraqi people. Asked whether the trial would be public, Adnan Pachachi said, "Yes, definitely, the trial will be public."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Al-Jazeera Satellite Television from Paris that the news of Hussein's capture was "the happiest news in the life of the Iraqis." "We have always said that dictators are cowardly rulers. Saddam has proven this fact in the way he was arrested," he added. Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council member and President for the month of December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim gave a press conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio from Madrid, telling reporters that DNA testing has confirmed that Hussein had definitely been captured. "This is a great day for humanity, not just for the Iraqi people. This is a great day for all of us who are lovers of peace, because this criminal has committed atrocities against humanity and not just against the Iraqi people," Abd al-Aziz said.

"We want Saddam to get what he deserves. I believe he will be sentenced to hundreds of death sentences at a fair trial because he's responsible for all the massacres and crimes in Iraq," said Amar al-Hakim, a senior member of the Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Reuters reported.

Kathleen Ridolfo is RFE/RL's Iraq analyst. For more on Iraq, see Post-Saddam Iraq.