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Iraq: Bush Says Hussein Capture Closes 'Dark And Painful Era'

Washington, 14 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today said the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein marks the end of what he called a "dark and painful era" for Iraq. Speaking at the White House, Bush said the former dictator will now "face the justice he denied to millions." He said Iraqis no longer have to worry about Hussein's possible return to power.

"I have a message for the Iraqi people: you will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again," Bush said.

Bush said Hussein's capture is essential to the emergence of a free Iraq. But he said the capture does not mean the end of violence in Iraq.

U.S. officials in Iraq earlier today announced that Hussein had been captured and taken into custody in a raid near his hometown of Tikrit. U.S. forces found the former dictator in a tiny underground hideout beside a two-room shack. Two other Iraqis, whose identities have not been revealed, were captured in the operation.

Speaking earlier at a Baghdad press conference, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, confirmed that U.S. forces captured deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday.

"We got him," Bremer said at the news conference, prompting claps and cheers from some members of the audience. Bremer told a news conference "This is a great day in Iraq's history.... [The] tyrant is a prisoner."

In Baghdad, there were street celebrations with many people firing guns into the air.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said they had received positive identification from a number of sources. According to Sanchez, Hussein was captured in a cellar in the town of Al-Dawr, which is about 15 kilometers south of Hussein's hometown Tikrit.

A video showing Hussein's hiding place and the former Iraqi president receiving a medical examination was shown. Sanchez said Hussein is currently under U.S. custody and at an undisclosed location.

Sanchez said that U.S. forces were acting on intelligence but refused to confirm whether any reward had been paid.

Earlier today the U.S. Defense Department said it could not confirm the arrest reports.

Iraqis and their neighbors in the Middle East are welcoming the capture of Hussein as a step forward for the region.

The current head of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, said Hussein's capture is significant not only for the Iraqi people, but for everyone, because Hussein had committed crimes against humanity during his rule.

"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," al-Hakim said.

In Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, Information Minister Mohammed Abulhassan told the AFP news agency that, "the whole world has been waiting to see the arrest of this tyrant."

The Arab League and Jordan also welcomed Hussein's capture as an important step toward Iraq's stabilization.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the arrest "removes the shadow" of Hussein's possible return to power.

"Saddam [Hussein] has gone from power. He won't be coming back. That, the Iraqi people now know. And it is they who will decide his fate," Blair said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an opponent of the Iraq war, congratulated U.S. President George W. Bush on the military operation and said he hopes the capture will help international efforts to stabilize Iraq.

A spokeswoman for French President Jacques Chirac, Catherine Colonna, said the president "is rejoicing in the arrest of Saddam Hussein." She said that Chirac, who also opposed the war, believes the arrest "will allow the Iraqis to recover control of their fate in a sovereign Iraq."

Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio called the arrest a great day for the liberty of the Iraqi people. She said that "the terrible shadow of this bloody dictator is going to vanish and the quality of their liberty will be enhanced."

The prime ministers of Australia and Belgium each said the arrest will help the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

In other news, Iraqi police say the car bomb which exploded this morning at a police station in a town west of Baghdad killed at least 17 people and wounded at least 30 more. Officials say that many of the victims are police officers.

The attack in Khaldiyah, about 80 kilometers west of Baghdad, occurred near the main police station.

For more stories on Iraq, see Post-Saddam Iraq.