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Saddam led humble life in his last days at large

ADWAR, Iraq—Saddam Hussein was known for his opulent palaces and his love for fine cigars.

But the thick-bearded, disheveled ex-strongman that U.S. soldiers captured on Saturday was living in a small mud-brick hut, surrounded by date palm, orange and pomegranate trees, that faced a field of tall, wilted sunflowers.

The yard on Monday was strewn with garbage and rusting tools. Chickens and turkeys clucked in a barbed-wire cage outside, and a lone dog sniffed around for food.

Inside, the former dictator ate canned ham and tuna and processed cheese. By his bedside, he kept cans of rat poison and bug spray to kill cockroaches. He had no phone.

A few steps outside Saddam's tiny bedroom, a white rug covered a rectangular patch of ground. The U.S. soldiers who captured him call it "The Hole." It was 6 feet by 8 feet. A 10-inch-thick lid—covered with dirt—plugged up the hole.

"You would think that's a rock, but all it is Styrofoam, very light and could be pushed out by one person," said Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Wilson, 46, of Aberdeen, N.C., who was with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat team that conducted the raid.

The shaft was about 4 feet wide, easy for even a large man to squeeze into the hole. It led to a coffin-sized, mud-covered cubbyhole where a 6-foot person could stretch his legs.

"Someone could probably stay down for as long as need be with food," said Wilson. "It's not the comforts of home. You can sit up and lay down, and that's about it."

The hole, braced by strips of lumber, had a fluorescent light on one end. An electrical wire connected it to the house. At the other end of the hole was a white ventilation fan. A long, football-thick pipe rose from the hole to suck in air.

On Monday, an empty black plastic bag, like the kind local vendors sell fruit in, was all that remained.

No one knows how long Saddam lived in the hut, but it was apparent that he had spent some time there. The bedroom was filled with men's clothes, including new shirts and socks still in their wrappers, suggesting he had shopped recently.

There was a pair of shiny black leather slippers with gold ornaments. A plastic bottle of Lacoste Pour Homme cologne sat on the shelf. About 20 Arabic-language books were on a small bookshelf.

Painted above the entrance were words that begin every Muslim prayer: "In the name of God, most merciful and most gracious."

The kitchen was nothing more than a tin-roofed shed attached to the bedroom. The floor was blackened with dirt. Rusted kettles sat on top of a gas stove. A red bucket contained flour. There were tinned foods and jars of honey.

A gold-plated mirror hung in a corner. At the back was a small, closet-size toilet that also served as a shower. Half-eaten pomegranates and orange peels were in the wastebasket.

"What we found surprised us," said Col. James Hickey, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat team. "We didn't expect it would be so humble and simple."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SADDAM


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