Published December 15, 2003
It happened quickly Saturday night.
The hunt has been going on for months now, ever since the 4th Infantry rolled into Saddam's old hometown in April. And I've been with the troops for some of the way.
The search for Saddam and his cronies who have been plaguing the 4th Infantry and the coalition with attacks is anything but glamorous. It is hard, grinding work.
Bone-jarring drives across farm fields in Humvee jeeps. Wading through marshy land along the Tigris River (search) looking for mortar tubes. Sitting in open fields in the darkness scanning the horizon for an enemy and its leader.
Col. James Hickey, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, is the type of guy who doesn't like to sit around his operations center. I often found him running circles around some of his younger men, urging them to keep on the trail of the bad guys … and maybe the "baddest" one. He never gave up hope that the former dictator was in his old neighborhood.
Lt. Col. Steve Russell of the 1st Batallion 22nd Infantry is another guy who doesn't like to kick back. Whether he's roaming through Tikrit spray-painting out pro-Saddam graffiti, testing anti-coalition elements with wild rides down the town's "RPG alley" or spending careful, thoughtful and sometimes mind-numbingly long sessions with locals trying to come up with leads, he is there.
And then there's Capt. Desmond Bailey: A "scout" for the 1st Brigade Combat Team used to spending hours keeping an eye out for the enemy. He's young and cocky but already a good commander of his team. He helped catch Saddam, too.
Looking for Saddam is like flatfoot detective work. Except these folks weren't doing it in Cleveland or San Diego. It was in a foreign land with a different culture and hostile forces. But an intel officer calmly showed me the sheathes of documents and pictures of Saddam they'd accumulated from raids on house after house getting closer to the "catch."
And how they were putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
And then there was that searingly hot ride one afternoon on the east side of the Tigris River. A call came in to the sergeant in the front seat to keep his eyes out for a white Mercedes. I asked him who was in the car. He replied, "Number 1 … maybe."
Saddam wasn't caught "riding in style" that day. But I think the troops preferred the way they found him this past weekend. In a hole in the ground. Kind of like a "grave" of his own making.
And while the reports say the special operations guys were leading the way, this one is for the soldiers in the jeeps, and the infantry trucks and the ones on foot. People who have sacrificed their lives and comfort for the past eight months. And people who have just put away one of the worst guys this region has ever seen.