Published December 14, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. forces converged on a farmhouse near Tikrit and discovered the Ace of Spades literally in the hole -- Saddam Hussein with a pistol, hiding in a dirt pit 6 feet in the ground.
Without any shots fired, American troops pulled a bearded and haggard Saddam from his hiding place near his hometown, U.S. officials announced Sunday morning. Hours later, when President Bush addressed the nation, he declared that "a dark and painful era is over."
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," L. Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. administrator in Iraq, told reporters in the first statement on the capture. "The tyrant is a prisoner."
The former Iraqi dictator was captured Saturday at 8:30 p.m. local time in the cellar of a farmhouse in the town of Adwar (search), 10 miles from Tikrit, ending one of the most intense manhunts in history. Saddam has been on the run since the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces on April 9.
"He was caught like a rat," said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno (search) of the 4th Infantry Division at a separate press conference in Tikrit. “It was ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from the great palaces he built using all the money he robbed from the Iraqi people.”
Officials showed a videotape of Saddam, the most-wanted figure of the U.S.-led coalition, as he was being inspected following his capture. The 66-year-old had a long black-and-gray beard and unkempt black hair. Journalists were then shown a video of Saddam after he was shaved.
Iraqi journalists in the audience stood, pointed and shouted "Death to Saddam!" and "Down with Saddam!"
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!"
Bush learned Saturday afternoon that Saddam might have been seized, and he got the news early Sunday that the military had confirmed he was in custody.
The president said Saddam "will face the justice he denied to millions."
"It marks the end of the road for him and all who killed and bullied in his name," Bush said in a nationally broadcast address from the Cabinet Room.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) hailed the capture, saying Saddam "has gone from power, he won't be coming back."
"Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq," Blair told reporters.
Hours before the capture was announced, a suspected homicide bomber detonated explosives in a car outside a police station west of Baghdad, killing at least 17 people and wounding 33 more, the U.S. military said. Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier died while trying to disarm a roadside bomb south of the capital.
Operation Red Dawn
About 600 U.S. troops took part in the raid that resulted in Saddam's capture, Operation Red Dawn, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top American general in Iraq. Two other unidentified Iraqis were captured along with Saddam and authorities confiscated two Kalashnikov rifles, a pistol, a taxi and $750,000 in U.S. currency at the site.
The operation began after the military received tips from local residents as well as unspecified intelligence, Sanchez said.
Odierno said that Saddam was captured less than 24 hours after the intelligence was received about his whereabouts. A team of soldiers from a variety of military units cordoned off an area of 2 square kilometers and finally removed Styrofoam covering the hole where Saddam was found.
“This was not something that happened overnight. Since we have been [in Iraq] we have collected a lot of intelligence. We always knew that he was relying on family and tribal ties," Odierno said.
Troops with Task Force 21, the special forces unit set up to go after Saddam, surrounded a farmhouse and looked for the ex-dictator in two specific locations — dubbed Wolverine One and Wolverine Two — but initially did not locate him.
The search of the home continued and troops discovered something in the ground called a "spider hole." The hole was 6 to 8 feet deep, with enough space to lie down, camouflaged with bricks and dirt and supplied with an air vent to allow long periods inside.
The hole was a few feet from a small, mud-brick hut where Saddam had been staying. The hut consisted of two rooms, a bedroom with clothes scattered about and a "rudimentary kitchen," Odierno said.
Odierno said that Saddam was disoriented and bewildered as he came out of the hole. Based on the fact that he still had clothing in wrappers, Odierno believed that he hadn’t been in the hideout for very long.
Sanchez said he had no idea how long Saddam had been at the home in Adwar and could not say if anyone had stepped forward to claim the $25 million dollar reward for his capture.
Asked about Saddam's state at the time of his capture, Sanchez said: "He was a tired man, a man resigned to his fate."
Saddam is talkative and is being cooperative, the general said. He is being held at an undisclosed location.
"This success brings closure to the Iraqi people," Sanchez said. "Saddam Hussein will never return to a position of power from which he can punish, terrorize, intimidate and exploit the Iraqi people as the did for more than 35 years."
Washington hopes Saddam's capture will help break the organized Iraq resistance that has killed more than 190 American soldiers since Bush declared major combat over on May 1 and has set back efforts at reconstruction.
U.S. commanders have said that while in hiding, Saddam played some role in the guerrilla campaign blamed on his followers.
'Saddam Will Stand Public Trial'
Ahmad Chalabi (search), a member of Iraq's Governing Council, said that Saddam will be put on trial.
"Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes," said Chalabi told Al-Iraqiya, a Pentagon-funded TV station.
A group of Iraqi leaders met with Saddam after his capture.
"He was unrepentant and defiant," said Adel Abdel-Mahdi (search), a senior official of a Shiite Muslim political party who was one of those who saw Saddam.
"When we told him, 'If you go to the streets now, you will see the people celebrating,"' Abdel-Mahdi said. "He answered, 'Those are mobs.' When we told him about the mass graves, he replied, 'Those are thieves."'
The official added: "He didn't seem apologetic. He seemed defiant, trying to find excuses for the crimes in the same way he did in the past."
"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," said council member Jalal Talabani (search).
Saddam proved elusive during the war, when at least two dramatic military strikes came up empty in their efforts to assassinate him. Since then, he has appeared in both video and audio tapes. U.S. officials named him No. 1 on their list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, the lead card in a special deck of most-wanted cards.
Saddam's sons Qusay and Uday — 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.
Adnan Pachachi, a Governing Council member, said Saddam's capture will bring stability to Iraq.
"The state of fear, intelligence and oppression is gone forever," Pachachi said. "The Iraqi people are very happy and we look forward to a future of national reconciliation between Iraqis in order to build the new and free Iraq, an Iraq of equality."
In Baghdad, residents fired small arms in the air in celebration, and gunfire echoed in neighborhoods across the city. 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."
Fox News' Bret Baier, Rita Cosby and Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.