TIKRIT, Iraq – Saddam Hussein's top aide managed to evade U.S. forces for a time by sleeping on a mat in the home of an Iraqi family who refused to turn him in because of the tradition in Arab and Muslim countries of protecting guests.
But Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti (search) surrendered quietly Tuesday morning after informants' tips led U.S. forces to the home of Kafi Awad and her husband. Al-Tikriti was Saddam's personal secretary and No. 4 on America's list of 55 most-wanted former regime figures.
"We couldn't tell him to leave our house," said Awad, whose husband, two sons and two brothers also were arrested in the raid. "We are Arabs. We always respect visitors to our house."
Al-Tikriti was on the roof of the modest house around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, wearing a traditional Arab robe and sporting a long beard, when U.S. Army helicopters approached, Awad said. There were explosions. Soldiers stormed the house, shooting a hole through a kitchen door, firing tear gas and detaining all the family members, including four children age 6 to 17, Awad said.
"We were terrified. They didn't know who they were looking for," she said. "They kept asking, 'Is Saddam here? Is Odai here? Is Qusai here?"'
Awad said her husband, a former airplane technician, had been running a grocery shop in Tikrit -- Saddam's hometown -- when an old army friend asked him to put up a guest for a few nights. The man arrived Sunday and slept on a mat in the living room.
On Monday morning, Awad said, her husband had figured out the identity of their quiet house guest. "My husband was scared," she said. "But we couldn't just tell him to leave our house."
That night, Awad said she served al-Tikriti broiled chicken, but he would only eat yogurt. "He was a little arrogant," said Mohammad Ahmad Rija, Awad's 13-year-old son.
Awad still awaits word of her husband, brothers and two adult sons, but said she was confident they would be released. "We're just thankful to God everyone's safe and sound," she said.
U.S. officials hope al-Tikriti can lead them to Saddam and his two sons, and give them leads to Baghdad's banned weapons programs.
In a raid just south of Tikrit early Wednesday, a detachment from the 4th Infantry Division found over $8.3 million in U.S. currency and over 500 pieces of jewelry buried near a farmhouse. U.S. forces also arrested four men and seized night-vision goggles and weapons.
Capt. Brad Boyd of the 4th Infantry said the Army got a tip that "possible bad guys" were there. As about seven dozen soldiers approached, two men tried to reach for weapons while another pair tried to escape in a pickup truck. All four were arrested.
Boyd said the soldiers were about to leave when one stepped on a soft patch of soil that felt like it had just been dug up. Beneath less than a foot of dirt, soldiers found a box containing a few thousand dollars. Energized by the find, the soldiers brought out mine detectors and shovels and began finding treasure buried all over the lot.
They eventually found two boxes, each counting $4 million in bundled hundred-dollar bills, along with hundreds of pieces of jewelry, a sniper rifle and two pounds of plastic explosive.
"It was like an Easter egg hunt," Boyd said.