Published December 14, 2003
WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein (search) now faces the "justice he denied to millions," President Bush said Sunday, declaring a repressive era in Iraq over but cautioning that attacks on U.S.-led troops would continue.
"The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq," Bush said in a three-minute televised address from the White House. "It marks the end of the road for him, and for all who bullied and killed in his name."
To Iraqis striving for a free society, Bush told them they have "taken the winning side." To Americans, mourning the deaths of more than 450 U.S. soldiers in the war, Bush braced them not to expect an end to the bloodshed.
Saddam will be interrogated about the fate of former government officials and whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before his ouster. Officials said they want to know how much control Saddam has had over insurgents who have repeatedly targeted U.S.-led coalition troops with car bombs and grenades.
Bush administration officials must decide whether anyone is entitled to the $25 million reward for Saddam's capture and whether he said be handed over to a war crimes tribunal set up by the Iraqis last week.
"Those are discussions we will have with the Iraqi people," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search).
The White House hopes Saddam's capture will help fracture an organized resistance of Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists that has killed more than 190 American soldiers since Bush declared major combat over on May 1. That campaign also has undermined reconstruction efforts.
The situation on the ground was driven home even as Bush spoke to the nation: Large explosions rocked central Baghdad and flames and thick smoke rose from the city. Police officials said three barrels of gasoline mounted on a pickup truck had exploded, it was not clear whether it was an accident. No one was hurt.
Also Sunday, a homicide bombing 50 miles west of Baghdad left more than a dozen Iraqis dead.
In the United States, a senior law enforcement official said there was no immediate intelligence suggesting threatened attacks on American soil and there was no discussion Sunday afternoon about raising the terror alert level in the country.
It was on March 19 that the war began; nine months later, the manhunt for Saddam ended.
Saddam's two sons were killed July 22 in a four-hour gunbattle with U.S. troops. Saddam, by comparison, was taken alive Saturday without resistance, and no gunfire.
Saddam was carrying a pistol and had a scraggly beard when discovered by troops from the 4th Infantry Division. He was hiding in a 6- to 8-foot deep hole.
"Today, many Iraqis can dare to believe what we have said from the beginning -- that the era of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is over," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said.
Bush shared the news of Saddam's capture, calling the leaders of Britain, Spain, Australia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Portugal and Poland.
Though the raid on Saddam came Saturday afternoon American time, U.S. officials went to great lengths to keep it quiet until medical tests and DNA testing confirmed Saddam's identity
At about 3:15 p.m. EST Saturday, Rumsfeld called Bush at Camp David to tell the president that U.S. forces believed they had captured Saddam. McClellan said Rumsfeld and Bush discussed the possibility that the man apprehended might be an impostor, but the president was upbeat: "This sounds like it's going to be good news."
Bush then informed Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and first lady Laura Bush, who replied "Great."
Cheney issued a statement saying the capture "is an important part of our ongoing operation" to prove that the era of Saddam is over.
Confirmation that the man in the hole was indeed Saddam came early Sunday morning when U.S. Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer called Rice. She relayed the news to Bush in a call at 5:14 a.m. EST.