• Faces crimes against humanity • Conflict not over, says US
TIKRIT, Dec 14: US forces captured former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as he slept in a farmhouse “crawlspace” near his hometown of Tikrit, officials said on Sunday.
They said a family close to Saddam provided the lead and he was captured on Saturday evening by about 600 troops without a shot being fired.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” US administrator Paul Bremer announced to a Baghdad news conference that featured a video of a scraggly, subdued Saddam with a thick black and grey beard undergoing a medical examination.
“Saddam Hussein, the captive, is talkative and being cooperative,” said Lt-Gen Ricardo Sanchez, adding that he was in good health.
The US army’s 4th Infantry Division said 66-year-old Saddam was captured without incident in an underground “crawlspace” near Tikrit. Two other people were also seized, as well as two AK-47 assault rifles, a pistol and 750,000 dollars in US currency.
US officials said Saddam, with a $25 million bounty on his head, was taken into custody at 8:26pm (1726 GMT) after a raid on a compound in the town of Ad Dawr, just south of Tikrit.
Kurdish officials said their peshmerga fighters also played a key role in capturing Saddam.
US army statements made no mention of the Kurdish role.
“This is a great day in Iraq’s history,” Mr Bremer said. “For decades hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hand of this cruel man. ... The tyrant is a prisoner.”
Gen Sanchez, the US forces commander in Iraq, said Saddam put up no resistance when he was found in a six-foot deep “spider” hole camouflaged with brick and dirt at a remote farmhouse.
“Saddam Hussein was found hiding at the bottom of the hole,” which had “enough space for a person to lie down in it,” Gen Sanchez said. The hole had an “air vent and exhaust fan built in ... to allow him to remain underground.”
He said Saddam was being held at an undisclosed location. There was no indication exactly where he would be tried but Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi said the proceedings would be public.
Correspondents were shown a brief video clip of Saddam after his capture. The ex-president was seen with a heavy beard and long black hair undergoing a medical examination and opening his mouth to be checked.
The military also displayed two mugshots of Saddam, one with his beard looking like a desert island castaway and one after he was shaved.
Gen Sanchez said the former Iraqi president appeared a “tired man and also I think a man resigned to his fate” when captured.
He described the capture as “a defining moment in the new Iraq ... a sign of Iraq’s rebirth.” Several Iraqis at the news conference shouted “Death to Saddam,” when his photographs were shown.
But Gen Sanchez said he did not think the conflict was over, although ordinary Iraqis would feel reassured that the once “greater leader” who terrified a nation and his neighbours was finally gone for good.
“The question is whether I’m gonna stop now. Of course not,” the general vowed.
“We’re gonna go ahead, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of identifying some of the former regime elements that are still operating in this country, that are still creating havoc and attacking the Iraqi people,” he said.
Iraqis celebrated Saddam’s capture in traditional style blasting away with their favourite weapons pointed to the skies and folk dancing in the streets. In central Fardous Square, people threw old bank notes bearing Saddam’s face into the air.
Four people died and more than 60 were wounded during wild celebrations in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, police said.
US President George W. Bush was given confirmation early on Sunday that Saddam had been captured, a senior aide said.
Saddam’s arrest was a major victory for the Americans at a time when the US occupation has been under criticism. He had come to symbolise the persistent anti-US resistance, even if it was not clear whether he was actually leading it.
CRUCIAL TIP-OFF: A family close to Saddam Hussein provided the crucial information that led to the capture of Saddam, the commander of the US army’s 4th infantry division said in Tikrit on Sunday.
Speaking at a press conference, Maj-Gen Raymond Odierno said that US forces had attempted to close in on wanted members of the deposed regime by working through family and tribal ties.
“There were a lot of people involved in this ... as we continued to chat to people we got more and more on a family that was considered close to Saddam Hussein”.
He said that over the past 10 days US forces were able to question several members from this family.
“Finally we got the ultimate information from one of the individuals,” he said.
DNA TESTS: The head of Iraq’s US-installed interim Governing Council, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, said on Sunday that DNA tests had confirmed that the man captured by US forces in Tikrit was Saddam.
Meanwhile, a leading judge, seeking anonymity, said in Baghdad that Saddam would be the first to be tried before a new Iraqi court set up last week to prosecute crimes against humanity by his deposed regime.
But Adnan Pachachi, who sits on the Governing Council, said Saddam showed no remorse when council members met him to identify the ex-president after his capture.
“We found him obviously tired and haggard but he was unrepentant and even defiant,” Mr Pachachi told a press conference. “He told us he was a just and firm ruler.”
Another member of the Governing Council, who went to identify Saddam, said the captured dictator had been brought back to Baghdad.—AFP