Hussein in custody

Ousted Iraqi president found hiding in hole near hut outside of hometown

`A man resigned to his fate'

Capture gives U.S. a lift in international dealings, boosts Bush's standing

The Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 15, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A bedraggled Saddam Hussein was seized by American forces in a nighttime raid, climaxing an eight-month manhunt and giving President Bush and the U.S.-led occupation an enormous lift.

Hussein, disheveled and appearing confused, was "caught like a rat" in a dusty hole near the banks of the Tigris River on Saturday, the commander whose soldiers carried out the raid said yesterday.

U.S. government videotape of a weary-looking Hussein in custody was aired in Iraq and throughout the world. It showed the former dictator, with a substantial scraggly gray beard and unkempt black hair, submitting passively to an examination by an American medic.

Close-up images of the American's plastic-gloved fingers probing Hussein's scalp and the inside of his mouth underscored the deeply humiliating "end of the road," as Bush put it, for a man once regarded as among the most feared and powerful despots in modern history.

The ignominious end to Hussein's flight from his U.S. pursuers represented a major victory for Bush, who had made the killing or capture of the Iraqi leader a central goal of the American invasion.

Bush, in a televised speech from the White House, warned against expecting a quick end to the deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers and Iraqis who cooperate with the American-led occupation.

But success in finally cornering Hussein gave the Bush administration a fresh opportunity for a new beginning in its struggle to persuade reluctant allies, particularly in Europe, to join a multilateral force for Iraq's future security. The presidential special envoy on Iraq, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, is to leave today on a mission to enlist cooperation from world leaders in relieving Iraq's debt burden.

Bush, whose domestic critics had become increasingly vocal in pointing out the U.S. failure to find either Hussein or al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, was likely to gain politically. With the U.S. economy improving, the Democratic presidential candidates have increasingly tied their hopes for defeating Bush to public dissatisfaction over the administration's Iraq policy.

The president, in brief and understated remarks, sought to reassure ordinary Iraqis who had feared that Hussein might somehow fight his way back to power. The arrest, Bush said, means that "the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever."

U.S. officials said they would not be surprised by a new surge of anti-American violence in Iraq over the next few days in response to the arrest.

As if to punctuate those warnings, three barrels of gasoline mounted on a pickup truck exploded in central Baghdad not long after the capture was announced. No one was hurt in the fiery blast, and it was not clear whether it was an accident or an attack.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Hussein was cooperating with his captors and described him as "talkative." He also characterized him as "a tired man, and also, I think, a man resigned to his fate."

Four members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, who met with Hussein for 30 minutes yesterday, described him as unrepentant about the brutality of his 35-year reign. The quartet - which included Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and a Bush administration favorite - had been taken by helicopter to Hussein's cell at an undisclosed U.S. military base in Iraq.

The Dubai-based Arab TV station Al-Arabiya reported that Hussein was transported later to Qatar for security reasons, but there was no confirmation of that report.

With Hussein no longer at large, American military officials said they hoped that more Iraqi citizens would come forward with information about the identities and activities of anti-U.S. insurgents. But they played down speculation that the former dictator's capture might somehow disrupt or reduce guerrilla attacks, which have led to the deaths of more American soldiers than were killed before Bush declared major combat over on May 1.

Hussein was providing a sort of moral support for the insurgency. While eluding capture, he taunted the Americans with recorded messages that urged Iraqis to attack the occupiers of their country. But he wasn't directing the resistance, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, whose units helped carry out the raid.

Violence against U.S. forces and Iraqi nationals who are cooperating with them is being coordinated by local and regional insurgents and is continuing, he said.

The capture of Hussein was a much-needed triumph for the U.S.-led force in Iraq and intelligence officials, who have been trying to stem the escalating anti-American violence, most of it from former Baath Party supporters.

Officials said yesterday that they believed Hussein had been moving for months among as many as 30 hideouts in the Sunni Triangle area of northern Iraq, where he retains substantial support.

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