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Saddam detained; Bush says attacks not over
( 2003-12-15 07:55) (Agencies)

A force of 600 American soldiers captured Saddam Hussein in a raid on Saturday night on an isolated farm near Tikrit, American military officials said. The former Iraqi president was found, haggard and disoriented but alive, hiding at the bottom of an 8-foot-deep hole.

Video image of captured former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein displayed at a news conference in Baghdad Sunday Dec. 14, 2003 in this image from television. [AP]

Mr. Hussein was armed with a pistol at the time of his capture, but he offered no resistance and not one shot was fired in the operation, military officials said.

American authorities, along with members of the Iraqi Governing Council, said they were convinced that the captive was Mr. Hussein, in part because of positive DNA tests, and described him as a talkative man who seemed alternately resigned to his fate and belligerently defensive about his 35 years in power.

``He was unrepentant and even defiant,'' said Adnan Pachachi, the elder statesman of the council and one of four members who were ferried by helicopter today to the secret location where Mr. Hussein was held.

``He tried to justify himself by saying he was a just and firm ruler,'' said Mr. Pachachi, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad in which the Iraqi political leaders promised to eventually take custody of Mr. Hussein and try him in public on charges of genocide. ``Of course, our answer was that he was an unjust ruler responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.''

The capture of Mr. Hussein solved one of the great mysteries that tormented the American-led occupation force in Iraq: whether he was still alive and, if so, where he was hiding.

The news was greeted by the fierce staccato of celebratory gunfire in the streets of the capital. Some people wept openly, pulling out worn photographs of relatives who they said were executed in the waves of political repression that marked the Iraqi leader's rule.

In a nationally televised address from the White House, President Bush said the capture of Mr. Hussein was ``crucial to the rise of a free Iraq.''

He added: ``In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq.''

The raid was organized in the space of a few hours, after officers with the Fourth Infantry Division received information about Mr. Hussein's whereabouts from a person with close ties to Mr. Hussein's family, said Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the division commander.

General Odierno did not identify the tipster, who had been arrested about one week ago, but said that as many as 10 people with family and tribal connections to Mr. Hussein had been detained over the last week and a half and that their interrogations had produced credible intelligence that spurred the soldiers to act.

US President Bush delivers a speech at the White House after the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. [Reuters]
General Odierno said his troops had to move swiftly and discreetly to the remote farm, which is located near the village of Ad Dwar about eight miles southeast of Tikrit, because the fugitive Iraqi leader was believed to change hiding places as frequently as every three to four hours.

Military officials said they did not know how long Mr. Hussein had been in the hole, which had an air pipe and a small fan embedded in a wall, but General Odierno said the former leader may have had as many as 30 similar hiding places around the country.

The former Iraqi leader might have been using a small hut, with a bedroom and a rudimentary kitchen, near the hole on the rural compound. The compound was close to the Tigris River, the general said, and several boats were found on the riverside.

The opening to the underground crawl space was covered by a rug and a smooth layer of dirt, with a styrofoam insert that could be lifted up and down easily, he added.

``He was caught like a rat,'' General Odierno told reporters.

He said T-shirts, socks and other items of clothing, some of them new and still in packages, were found in the bedroom.

Since April, when coalition forces pushed into Baghdad and declared the start of the occupation, American-led troops have tried to wipe away all vestiges of the old government in part by capturing or killing many of Mr. Hussein's former advisers and associates.

But their biggest target, Mr. Hussein himself, continued to evade coalition forces even as he broadcast audio messages intended to rally his loyalists while taunting the people who cooperated with the American-led occupation, calling them traitors and urging Iraqis to murder foreign soldiers and their own government officials.

American commanders have said they did not know whether Mr. Hussein himself played a role in financing, planning or coordinating the guerrilla attacks and bombings that have killed more than 190 soldiers since President Bush declared the official end of hostilities in Iraq in May.

Increasingly, the violence has maimed and killed ordinary Iraqis, as was the case today, when an explosion outside a police station in Khalidiya, northwest of Baghdad, killed at least 17 people, including a child.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said those answers might come during the interrogation of Mr. Hussein. He expressed doubt that the capture of Mr. Huseein would end the attacks, but said that Iraqis might be more willing to help in the hunt for insurgents now that the specter of a their old leader's return had been eliminated.

``With the cooperation of all the Iraqi people and our coalition,'' he said, ``I believe that we are now much closer to a safe and secure environment here in all the country.''

General Sanchez also said that $750,000 in $100 bills and two AK-47 automatic weapons, the most ubiquitous weapons in Iraq, were found in a small house next to the hole where Mr. Hussein was hiding. He said Mr. Hussein had a pistol with him in his cramped hole, but did not use it.

The announcement of Mr. Hussein's arrest was made at a tightly guarded press conference in Baghdad, in a building that once was part of the Iraqi leader's vast collection of marble palaces and lavish offices along the Tigris River in the capital.

Iraqi children celebrate in Baghdad December 14, 2003 after the capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. [Reuters]

L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the occupation authority that has run Iraq since Mr. Hussein's government fell in April, made the first announcement of the capture.

``Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,'' he declared.

Mr. Bremer, who has promised the Iraqis on behalf of President Bush that political sovereignty would be handed to them by next July, called on the country to look ahead rather than be swept into a whirlwind of vengeance and recriminations.

``For decades, Saddam Hussein divided you citizens against each other,'' he said. ``For decades, he threatened and attacked your neighbors. Those days are over forever. Now it is time to look to the future, to your future of hope, to a future of reconciliation.''

He appealed to insurgents loyal to Mr. Hussein to give up the fight.

``With the arrest of Saddam Hussein, there is a new opportunity for the members of the former regime, whether military or civilian, to end their bitter opposition,'' he said in the news conference, which was internationally televised. ``Let them now come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and hope, lay down their arms, and join you, their fellow citizens, in the task of building the new Iraq.''

For many Iraqis, the sight of Mr. Hussein, even in custody, will serve as a reminder of the painful years lived under the former Iraqi leader and his Baath Party, which came to power in a coup in 1968.

During his rule, Iraq fought three wars, first against Iran, then against the American led-coalition that repelled the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and finally, in March, against the latest American-led coalition that invaded Iraq.

The whereabouts of Mr. Hussein had been a mystery since at least March 20, when the United States initiated the war in Iraq with a strike by cruise missiles and bombs on an installation in Baghdad where the top Iraqi leadership was believed to be hiding.

On April 7, three days after Iraqi television broadcast two videotapes of Mr. Hussein taped on an unknown date, the United States made a second attempt to kill Mr. Hussein by bombing a building in the Mansour district of Baghdad, where intelligence sources said the Iraqi leadership had gathered.

Those two strikes prompted some optimism at the White House that Mr. Hussein and his two oldest sons had been killed. But with the failure of investigators to find physical evidence of Mr. Hussein at the two sites, combined with testimony of senior Iraqi officials in American custody who said the Iraqi leader had not been at those locations, American intelligence agencies concluded that they had probably missed their target.

This view was further strengthened by the broadcast of the audiotapes.

American officials had hoped they were getting closer to determining the whereabouts of Mr. Hussein when troops killed his sons, Qusay and Uday, on July 22 in a four-hour gun battle with American troops in a hideout in the northern city of Mosul.

But an initial burst of confidence gradually faded and, as the bloody weeks dragged on, and American troops were unable to find either Mr. Hussein or conclusive proof that he had been developing weapons of mass destruction, the White House and the Pentagon tried to shift attention from those failures by arguing that the most important thing was that Mr. Hussein had been removed from power.

Still, even Mr. Bremer acknowledged several months ago that the coalition's inability to capture him or recover his body was helping to fuel the resistance movement.

``I would obviously prefer that we had clear evidence that Saddam is dead or that we had him alive in our custody,'' Mr. Bremer said. ``It does make a difference because it allows the Baathists to go around in the bazaars and in the villages, as they are doing, saying: `Saddam is alive, and he's going to come back. And we're going to come back.'''

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