BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2003 -- Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been captured near his home town of Tikrit, the U.S. military has confirmed.
Saddam, who ruled Iraq for 23 years until his ouster in April, has been a fugitive since then with a $25 million bounty on his head.
In an address to the nation, President Bush gave the following message to Iraqis: "You do not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again."
He said Saddam's capture will bring sovereignty and dignity to Iraq and the opportunity for a better life. "It is the end of the road for him," he said. "And for the Baathists, there will be no return to privilege in Iraq."
"Iraqis who have chosen the side of freedom, now have won," added President Bush.
"In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over," he said. "A hopeful day has arrived."
‘The Tyrant is a Prisoner’
Confirmation of Saddam's capture came at a news conference in Baghdad after rumors swirled through the Iraqi capital.
The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, opened the press conference with the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him."
"This is a great day in Iraq's history," Bremer said. "The tyrant is a prisoner."
Bremer said that Saddam was captured Saturday in a cellar in the town of Ad Dawr, 10 miles from Tikrit.
Sanchez described Saddam's demeanor during the arrest, saying he seemed "a tired man. Also I think a man resigned."
Saddam was in a six-to-eight-foot-deep "spider hole" that had been camouflaged with bricks and dirt. The soldiers saw the hole, investigated and found him inside, armed with a pistol, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division that assisted in capturing the leader.
Video played at the press conference showed an air vent and fan inside the hole to allow Saddam to remain hidden for an extended period. There were, however, no communication devices found.
The entrance to the hiding place was a few feet from a small, mud-brick hut where Saddam had been staying.
The hut consisted of two rooms, a bedroom with clothes scattered about and a "rudimentary kitchen," Odierno said. Soldiers found new clothes, including T-shirts and socks, still unwrapped in the bedroom.
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 Lt. Gen. Richardo Sanchez.
‘A New Beginning’ for Iraqis
Saddam was betrayed by one of his own, said Odierno. Over the last 10 days, U.S. soldiers have questioned "five to 10 members" of families "close to Saddam."
"Finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals," he said Sunday from Tikrit.
In Baghdad, shop owners closed their doors, worried that all the shooting would make the streets dangerous.
"I'm very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now," said 35-year-old Yehya Hassan, a resident of Baghdad. "Now we can start a new beginning."
Bush first learned of the capture on Saturday afternoon, and was given confirmation early today by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was among the first U.S. allies to confirm the early reports, saying that "Saddam is gone from power."
U.S. forces officially informed the world of their success and showed a video of Saddam's capture during a news conference in Baghdad today.
The video showed him undergoing a medical check. Soldiers took what appeared to be DNA swabs from his mouth. Saddam, with a straggly, greying beard, was not putting up resistance.
A picture which appeared to be taken later showed Saddam clean shaven.
It was not immediately clear how Saddam's identity was confirmed, but the former Iraqi leader is known to have a small tattoo on one hand. Preliminary DNA testing is also thought to have been conducted.
Two men "affiliated with Saddam Hussein" were detained with him, and soldiers confiscated two Kalashnikov rifles, a pistol, a taxi and $750,000 in $100 bills, Sanchez said.
The deposed Iraqi president is now being held at Baghdad's main airport, formerly known as Saddam International Airport.
Saddam's capture is a defining moment in the Iraq war and subsequent rebuilding process, and Bush administration officials have hoped it would lessen or break the organized resistance against U.S. troops that have led to scores of deaths since the end of combat operations.
Saddam proved elusive at least twice during the war, when dramatic military strikes came up empty in their efforts to capture him. Since then, he has appeared in both video and audio tapes. U.S. officials named him No. 1 on their list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, the lead card in a special deck of most-wanted cards.
But U.S. officials struck a major blow earlier this year when they killed Saddam's two sons during a raid.
Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi said Saddam should be put on trial. "Let him face justice," Chalabi said.
The head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said that DNA tests had confirmed that a suspect detained in Iraq wasousted Saddam.
"I have the pleasure to announce on behalf of the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein has been detained," he told a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. "A DNA test has already been carried out."
Sanchez said U.S. forces in Iraq were prepared for any escalation of attacks launched in retaliation for Saddam's capture.
Saddam joined the socialist Baath party when he was 19. He made his mark three years later when he participated in a 1959 assassination attempt against Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Kassim. Saddam was shot in the leg during the botched effort and fled the country for several years, first to Syria, then Egypt.
In 1968, he helped lead the revolt that finally brought the Baath party to power under Gen. Ahmed Hassan Bakr. In the process, he landed the vice president's post, from which he built an elaborate network of secret police to root out dissidents. Eleven years later, in the wake of what has been widely characterized as a coup, Bakr announced his resignation and relinquished the presidency to Saddam.
Soon, the streets of Iraq were plastered with 20-foot-high portraits of the new leader.
Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday that the arrest of Saddam should have a dramatic impact onsecurity in Iraq.
"I think this will have a dramatic effect on security in Iraq," Zebari told BBC World television by telephone from Paris.
"This is the happiest news, the best news. We have waited for so long," he said.