U.S.: 'We got him'; Saddam Hussein caught near his hometown
American forces capture Saddam alive in Tikrit
07:23 AM CST on Sunday, December 14, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq - American forces captured a bearded Saddam Hussein, hiding in a hole in a farmhouse cellar near his hometown of Tikrit, the U.S. military announced Sunday. The arrest was carried out without a shot fired and was a victory for the U.S.-led coalition eight months after the fall of Baghdad.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer told a news conference. "The tyrant is a prisoner," Bremer said.
Several Iraqi journalists stood up and shouted "Death to Saddam" after the video of his capture was shown.
Bremer said that Saddam was captured Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in a cellar in the town of Adwar, 10 miles from Tikrit.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq. Radio stations played celebratory music and people drove through the streets of the capital, shouting, "They got Saddam! They got Saddam!"
Forces from the Fort Hood-based 4th Infantry Division along with Special Forces captured Saddam, the U.S. military said. There were no shots fired or injuries in the raid, called "Operation Red Dawn," said Lt. Gen. Richardo Sanchez.
The Iraqi Governing Council said in a statement that Saddam was wearing a fake beard.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Saddam's capture.
"This is very good news for the people of Iraq. It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime," he said in a statement released by his office.
Trapped in the cellar, Saddam dug a hole and buried himself as U.S. soldiers moved into the house where he was hiding, an Iraqi official said Sunday.
"The American soldiers had to use shovels to dig him out," Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, told The Associated Press.
Qanbar, basing his account on reports from members of the U.S.-led occupation authority, said Saddam had a salt-and-pepper beard when he was captured. Soldiers photographed him, shaved the beard and photographed him again before running DNA tests, he said.
In the capital, radio stations played celebratory music, residents fired small arms in the air in celebration and others drove through the streets, shouting, "They got Saddam! They got Saddam!"
Shop owners closed their doors, worried that all the shooting would make the streets unsafe.
"I'm very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now," said 35-year-old Yehya Hassan, a resident of Baghdad. "Now we can start a new beginning."
Earlier in the day, rumors of the capture sent people streaming into the streets of Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city, firing guns in the air in celebration.
"We are celebrating like it's a wedding," said Kirkuk resident Mustapha Sheriff. "We are finally rid of that criminal."
"This is the joy of a lifetime," said Ali Al-Bashiri, another resident. "I am speaking on behalf of all the people that suffered under his rule."
In Tikrit, U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division, the unit that is responsible for security in Saddam's hometown, were smoking cigars after hearing the news of Saddam's capture.
Despite the celebration throughout Baghdad, many residents were skeptical.
"I heard the news, but I'll believe it when I see it," said Mohaned al-Hasaji, 33. "They need to show us that they really have him."
Ayet Bassem, 24, walked out of a shop with her 6-year-old son.
"Things will be better for my son," she said. "Everyone says everything will be better when Saddam is caught. My son now has a future."
After invading Iraq on March 20 and setting up their headquarters in Saddam's sprawling Republican Palace compound in Baghdad, U.S. troops launched a massive manhunt for the fugitive leader, placing a $25 million bounty on his head and sending thousands of soldiers to search for him.
Saddam's sons Qusai and Odai - each with a $15 million bounty on their heads - were killed July 22 in a four-hour gunbattle with U.S. troops in a hideout in the northern city of Mosul. The bounties were paid out to the man who owned the house where they were killed, residents said.
A Governing Council member, Jalal Talabani, told Iran's official news agency, IRNA, that Saddam's detention will bring stability to Iraq.
"With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq," Talabani was quoted as saying.