It took eight months.
When it finally came, it was a surprise.
Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody
But there was jubilation in Washington and Iraq today as word spread that a bearded and disoriented Saddam Hussein had been captured, uninjured, without a shot being fired, while hiding in an underground hideout on a farm in his hometown of Tikrit.
Both the U.S. and British government confirmed the capture, which came eight months after the fall of Baghdad.
The U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, told a press conference that Saddam was arrested at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. About 600 coalition troops joined the operation.
The U.S. forces also showed video of captured Saddam, who was wearing a beard and undergoing a medical examination. Saddam is ”in good health” and without injuries, a U.S. spokesman told reporters.
The former Iraqi president had $750,000 in cash on him.
In Baghdad, Iraqis celebrated the capture of the former leader with gunfire. Continuous gunshots were heard over the neighborhoods as reports poured into the city early in the day that Saddam was caught in Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
Saddam’s capture was first reported by Iran’s official news agency IRNA, which quoted Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as saying that ”Saddam Hussein was arrested in his hometown of Tikrit.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed the arrest with a public statement: ”I very much welcome the capture last night of Saddam Hussein. 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. It also gives an opportunity for Saddam to be tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people. And it gives us an opportunity to take a step forward in Iraq.”
”Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” Bremer told a news conference. ”The tyrant is a prisoner.”
Saddam was captured in a specially prepared ”spider hole” in the cellar in the town of Adwar, 10 miles from Tikrit, Lt Col. Ricardo Sanchez said. The hole was six to eight feet deep, camouflaged with bricks and dirt and supplied with an air vent to allow long periods inside.
In the capital, radio stations played celebratory music, residents fired small arms in the air and others drove through the streets, shouting, ”They got Saddam! They got Saddam!”
At the news conference announcing his capture, U.S. forces aired a video showing a bearded Saddam being examined by a doctor holding his mouth open with a tongue depressor, apparently to get a DNA sample. Saddam was shown touching his beard during the exam.
Then a video was shown of Saddam after he was shaved.
Iraqi journalists in the audience stood, pointed and shouted ”Death to Saddam!” and ”Down with Saddam!”
”The captive has been talkative and is being cooperative,” Sanchez said. Saddam was being held at an undisclosed location, and U.S. authorities have not yet determined whether to hand him over to the Iraqis for trial. Iraqi officials want him to stand trial before a war crimes tribunal created last week.
Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, said Saddam will be put on trial.
”Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes,” Chalabi told Al-Iraqiya, a Pentagon-funded TV station.
Forces from the 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 Sanchez.
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.
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.
Against a background of celebratory gunshots fired in the air by jubilant Iraqis, an emotional and grateful Dr. Azzam Alwash — a former Iraqi exile now back in Baghdad — told Fox News: “Thank you to all the soldieres of the United States and the collation for making this possible.”
Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, told reporters in Tikrit that Saddam was captured based on information from a member of a family “close to him.” “Finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.”
Although he was armed with a pistol, Saddam didn’t fire his weapon. “There was no way he could fight back so he was just caught like a rat,” Odierno said.
He added, “The intimidation and fear this man generated for 30 years are gone … [but] our work here still continues.”
Bush: ‘USA will not relent’
“Now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions,” a solemn President Bush said at 12:15 p.m. Eastern, in his official reaction to Saddam’s capture. “It marks the end of the road for him.”
“For the vast majority of Iraqi cititzens,” he said, “the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever. … I have a message for the Iraqi people: You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again.”
Noting that he expects further terror attacks despite Saddam’s capture, Bush added: “We’ve come to this moment through patience, and resolve and focused action. … Our security is preserved by our perseverance.”
“The USA will not relent,” he concluded, “until this war is won.”