|December 14, 2003 - By EDWARD WONG & KIRK SEMPLE|
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 14 - Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi leader, was captured in a raid on a farm house near Tikrit on Saturday night, American military officials confirmed today.
The officials said they had used DNA tests to confirm his identity.
``We got him,'' American administrator L. Paul Bremer III said at a news conference here.
Coalition troops discovered Mr. Hussein hiding in a hole below the farm house, located in the town of Adwar, 10 miles from Tikrit.
Military officials said that Mr. Hussein had put up no resistance and that not one shot had been fired in the operation.
American officials hailed the discovery of Mr. Hussein as a major tactical victory in their fight to wipe out the vestiges of the old government.
Finding Mr. Hussein also solved one of the great mysteries that tormented the American-led occupation force in Iraq: whether he was still alive and, if so, where he was hiding. British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Mr. Hussein's
This is very good news for the people of Iraq,'' he said in a statement released by his office. ``It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime.''
By midmorning in Washington, President Bush still had not made a public statement about the matter.
American officials hope the capture of Mr. Hussein will undermine the guerrilla-style insurgency that has left hundreds of coalition soldiers dead since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1.
At a news conference today announcing Mr. Hussein's capture, American officials aired a video showing a bearded and scruffy-haired Mr. Hussein being examined by a doctor.
Mr. Hussein was in a six-to-eight-foot-deep ``spider hole'' that had been camouflaged with bricks and dirt, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said at the news conference. The video showed an air vent and fan installed in the hole to allow Mr. Hussein to remain hidden for an extended period.
``The captive has been talkative and is being cooperative,'' General Sanchez said. Coalition troops captured two other Iraqis in the raid and seized two AK-47 assault rifles, a pistol and $750,000 in $100 bills General Sanchez said.
He described Mr. Hussein's demeanor during the arrest, saying he seemed ``a tired man - also, I think, a man resigned.''
Officials said Mr. Hussein was being held at an undisclosed location and that American authorities had yet to decide 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.
Celebratory gunfire broke out all over Baghdad, and large crowds poured into the streets, especially along commercial strips like those in the Karada neighborhood. People were speaking ecstatically of the capture, hugging and shaking one another's hands.
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, The Associated Press reported.
``We are celebrating like it's a wedding,'' a resident, Mustapha Sheriff, told the news agency. ``We are finally rid of that criminal.''
Another resident, Ali Al-Bashiri, said: ``This is the joy of a lifetime. I am speaking on behalf of all the people that suffered under his rule.''
But in Ramadi, a town west of Baghdad that has served as a loyal support base for Mr. Hussein, people had not heard about the capture by early afternoon. A feeling of anger was building up against the American occupiers, triggered by a car bomb this morning outside the police station in the nearby town of Khalidiya.
The bomb went off at 8:30 a.m. this morning, killing at least 21 people, mostly police officers, and wounding at least 33, according to military and hospital officials. Men standing at the scene and at the hospital blamed American forces for the blast, even though it was clear that the bomb was targeting Iraqi police working with the Americans.
Administration officials have said that Mr. Hussein's survival, despite the American hunt and a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture or proof of his death, appears to have been a motivating factor in the armed opposition against American forces.
The whereabouts of Mr. Hussein had been a mystery since at least March 20, when the United States initiated the war in Iraq with a strike by cruise missiles and bombs on an installation in Baghdad where the top Iraqi leadership was believed to be hiding.
On April 7, three days after Iraqi television broadcast two videotapes of Mr. Hussein taped on an unknown date, the United States made a second attempt to kill Mr. Hussein by bombing a building in the Mansour district of Baghdad, where intelligence sources said the Iraqi leadership had gathered.
Those two strikes prompted some optimism at the White House that Mr. Hussein and his two oldest sons had been killed. But with the failure of investigators to find physical evidence of Mr. Hussein at the two sites, combined with testimony of senior Iraqi officials in American custody who said the Iraqi leader had not been at those locations, American intelligence agencies concluded that they probably missed their target.
This view was further strengthened by the broadcast in the past several weeks of at least four audiotapes with a voice purporting to be that of Mr. Hussein. One of them may have inadvertently dampened the skepticism about his sons' deaths by calling on Iraqis to mourn them.
American officials said the most compelling indications that Mr. Hussein was still alive were the intercepted communications among fugitive members of the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen and the Iraqi intelligence service discussing the importance of protecting his life.
American officials had hoped they were getting closer to determining the whereabouts of Mr. Hussein when troops killed his sons, Qusay and Uday, on July 22 in a four-hour gunbattle with American troops in a hideout in the northern city of Mosul. But an initial burst of confidence gradually faded away and, as the bloody weeks dragged on, and American troops were unable to find either Mr. Hussein or conclusive proof that he had been developing weapons of mass destruction, the White House and the Pentagon tried to shift attention from those failures by arguing that the most important thing was that Mr. Hussein had been removed from power.
Still, even the American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, acknowledged several months ago that the coalition's inability to capture him or recover his body was helping to fuel the resistance movement.
``I would obviously prefer that we had clear evidence that Saddam is dead or that we had him alive in our custody,'' Mr. Bremer said. ''It does make a difference because it allows the Baathists to go around in the bazaars and in the villages, as they are doing, saying: `Saddam is alive, and he's going to come back. And we're going to come back.'''