ADWAR, Iraq—U.S. soldiers and special forces captured deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein without firing a shot, authorities announced Sunday, ending an era in Iraq and providing a huge psychological boost for President Bush's troubled effort to stabilize the country.
Saddam was captured Saturday in an underground hiding place at a remote farmhouse in Adwar, a town nine miles from his birthplace in Tikrit, in central Iraq. He surrendered without resistance, said Army Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno.
Odierno, whose 4th Infantry Division carried out the raid based on a tip received less than 24 hours earlier, described Saddam as "disoriented" and "bewildered" when he was taken into custody.
The former dictator, who had eluded U.S. bombs and searchers for nine months, "was just caught like a rat," he said.
Saddam, who once held absolute power and had sway over billions of dollars' worth of oil, was shown in video images tired and bedraggled with an unkempt beard. The former dictator—who while in power didn't allow anyone to even shake his hand without going through elaborate security procedures—put up no fight as an American soldier examined his teeth and matted hair.
The capture, at 8:26 p.m. local time Saturday, is a symbolic blow for the United States against the guerrilla resistance that has killed nearly 200 U.S. soldiers since May 1—when President Bush declared major combat over—and has sabotaged the U.S.-led rebuilding effort. It will boost the confidence of Iraqis struggling to craft a new government.
But it is unlikely to end attacks on U.S. forces, particularly in the short term, officials said.
Saddam was caught with a pistol, which he didn't try to use, Odierno said.
There were no radios, computers, satellite phones or any other communication devices found at the farm, the general said. He added that he believed the insurgency had some local and regional coordination, but that Saddam didn't appear to be orchestrating the attacks.
Two other Iraqis, believed to be Saddam's aides, were also arrested in the raid. Soldiers found two Kalashnikov rifles, a taxi and a green metal crate filled with $750,000—all in $100 bills.
In Washington, President Bush said, "Now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions."
But in a three-minute address from the White House Cabinet Room to Americans and Iraqis, Bush also warned, "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq."
Odierno and other officials said that while Saddam might provide information on the anti-American resistance, he did not appear to directly control the guerrillas.
There could even be a short-term upsurge in violence by his former supporters, "people who have even less of a future than they did before," said a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Saddam also might provide information on the fate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
Four members of the Iraqi Governing Council held an extraordinary meeting with Saddam after his capture, arranged by U.S. forces so Iraqis could confirm it was Saddam. They described him as calm, resigned to his fate—and unrepentant.
"He said he did not regret what he did," said council member Adnan Pachachi.
Council member Moffawak al Rubaie said that when he asked Saddam about Iraq's mass graves, he replied: "Did you ask their families why I put those people in the mass graves? Either they were thieves or unloyal to the country or they ran away from the army."
In Baghdad, reaction to the news of Saddam's capture was mixed. Many Baghdadis said they found the way Saddam was caught humiliating. Others said they feared more violence.
Gunfire continued into the night, much of it celebratory, but some of it released by Saddam sympathizers in Adamiya, a Sunni stronghold and one of the last neighborhoods where Saddam was seen before the fall of Baghdad on April 9.
"I hope things will be better now for all the people. I feel sorry for ourselves, we lost our youth. Thirty-five years of our life just gone. I am happy they got him. Insha'allah (God willing), this will stop the violence," said barber Samir Karim, 34, in Baghdad.
Bassima al Adami, 58, a retired schoolteacher, said she "felt sorry" for Saddam "because he's an Iraqi."
"The violence will not stop," she said. "It is not because of Saddam Hussein. It is because of the American occupation of an Arabic land, especially Iraq. This country has 7,000 years of civilization controlled now by a foreign force that does not have roots in this country. They will spoil everything, they will destroy everything."
U.S. officials were positively gleeful.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," said ambassador L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, at a news conference.
Bush, who was told Saturday afternoon by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of Saddam's possible capture, flew back to the White House from the Camp David presidential retreat.
The president got final confirmation that Saddam was in U.S. custody in a phone call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at 5:14 a.m. Sunday, the White House said.
Democratic presidential candidates praised the capture, with the most effusive comments coming from those who had backed the war.
"Hallelujah, praise the Lord," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. "Saddam Hussein was a homicidal maniac. This evil man has to face the death penalty."
Antiwar candidate Howard Dean called it "a great day for the Iraqi people, the U.S. and the international community."
Congratulatory messages came even from countries that bitterly opposed Bush's decision last March to go to war.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Bush in a telegram: "Saddam Hussein brought unspeakable suffering to his own people and to the entire region. I hope that his capture will foster the efforts of the international community to reconstruct and stabilize Iraq."
The Bush administration hopes the end of the Saddam era will convince nations such as Germany, France and Russia to get more involved in rebuilding Iraq, the senior U.S. official said. Officials also hope it will alter the Arab world's view of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
One immediate question is who will try Saddam for crimes that range from the 1990 invasion and pillaging of Kuwait to the murder of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, some with chemical weapons.
Members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council announced that they would try Saddam before a war crimes tribunal that was established last week.
But the Bush administration said no final decision had been made.
Several legal issues need to be sorted through first, the senior official said. In any case, "Iraqis will play a very significant role" in trying Saddam, he said.
Members of the Governing Council who met with Saddam after his capture said he offered no apologies.
"He said he did not regret what he did," said council member Adnan Pachachi.
Saddam's identity—he had numerous body doubles—was confirmed through DNA testing, Iraqi and U.S. officials said, although the details of how that was accomplished were unclear.
Saddam's capture comes nearly five months after his sons, Qusai and Odai, were killed in a four-hour firefight with U.S. troops in the northern city of Mosul.
Odierno said that U.S. forces in recent days had made a concerted attempt to detain individuals with family and tribal ties to Saddam who might have information on who was protecting him, detaining five to 10 such people in the last 10 days.
In the end, he added, a member of a family "close to" Saddam provided the information leading to his apprehension. It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, would receive the $25 million U.S. reward for Saddam's capture.
In Adwar, where people still refer to Saddam as Mr. President, dozens of residents gathered on the dirt road leading to the farm. A group of armed U.S. soldiers kept watch on the road and stopped anybody from going onto the property.
The soldiers were flashing big smiles.
"It feels like a dream," said First Lt. Charles Turner of the 4th Infantry's First Combat Brigade, which conducted the raid. "It hasn't really sunk in yet."
But Awad Muhammed al Duri was feeling exactly the opposite.
"I am sad," said the 20-year-old student. "We are all sad because they took our president. We all loved our president."
(Fan reported from Baghdad; Raghavan from Adwar and Strobel from Washington. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Ron Hutcheson, Jonathan S. Landay and Steven Thomma contributed to this report from Washington.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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