WaPo has a superb roundup of stories on Saddam’s capture and the fallout.
The clues that led to Hussein’s capture emerged three weeks ago, officials said, when intelligence analysts and Special Operations forces shifted the focus of their hunt from Hussein’s innermost circle to the more distant relatives and tribal allies who they suspected had been sheltering the deposed president. U.S. officials here and in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new strategy led to the capture in Baghdad on Friday of a relative from Hussein’s Tikriti clan. Under interrogation, the man contributed a vital, though still undisclosed, clue to Hussein’s whereabouts.
Reed said a man in the hole raised his arms and said: “My name is Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate.”
Reed said the soldiers replied: “Regards from President Bush.”
Within hours of his capture, however, the man who exercised absolute power in Iraq for almost three decades was confronted by several politicians he had tormented. In a 30-minute meeting at a detention facility at Baghdad International Airport, four of the country’s new leaders grilled Hussein about his rule.
“He had no regret or remorse,” said Mowaffak Rubaie, a member of Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council. “He remains the street thug that he always was.”
“He was unrepentant and defiant,” said Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a senior Shiite Muslim politician. “He was not at all apologetic. He just made excuses for his crimes.”
Early Sunday morning, after his bushy beard had been shaved off and he had caught some sleep on an Army cot, Saddam Hussein received his first Iraqi visitors.
They were four senior Iraqi political figures, invited by American officials to the high-security detention center in Baghdad for the purpose of confirming Hussein’s identity with their own eyes.
But instead of viewing him through a one-way window or a closed-circuit camera as the American officials had intended, the Iraqis asked for — and were granted — permission to meet with the former president. In a remarkable half-hour session, Hussein sat in a small room with four men who represented the legions of Iraqis imprisoned, tortured or killed by his government, as well as the thousands who fled into exile during his rule.
“It was surreal,” said Mowaffak Rubaie, a Shiite Muslim member of Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council who fled the country in 1979 after being arrested and tortured by Hussein’s secret police.
In the eight months that Hussein has been on the run, the resistance has gathered a momentum of its own, driven primarily by local financiers and ringleaders. Although gloating crowds often glorify Hussein after attacks on U.S. forces, recent interviews across the most restive parts of Iraq suggest that motivation for the insurgency extends well beyond loyalty to the former leader.
In rhetorical terms at least, the message of those fighters and their supporters has appealed more to nationalism and religion than to loyalty to Hussein.
“We are not fighting for Saddam,” said Ahmed Jassim, a religious student in the flash-point city of Fallujah, as he cheered an attack on a U.S. convoy recently. “We are fighting for our country, for our honor, for Islam. We are not doing this for Saddam.”
Jasib Faraj Muadi said he was at a barbershop when his friend came in around 1:30 p.m. and told him he had heard that the former Iraqi president had been found inside a farmhouse cellar just west of the capital. It was joyous news for a neighborhood where practically everyone seems to have a relative, friend or acquaintance who was tortured or killed during the Hussein era.
“We were not truly free until today,” said Muadi, 29, a shop owner, as others in the barbershop broke out in a dance.
For Iraqis, who for more than two decades were forced to stare at Hussein’s glorified image on billboards, paintings in museums and schoolbooks, the televised pictures of Hussein with a puffy face, an overgrown beard and hair standing every which way were a jolting sign of the end of an era. For many Iraqis, the arrest was as significant as April 9, the day U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad.
“Until now, we still love Saddam and we still need him and we never want to get rid of him, not for a single minute,” said Ahmed Abbas, 19. “Until now and from now on, we will continue fighting for him.”
The residents of the Maabar neighborhood, a cluster of concrete-block homes along the main street at Dawr’s northern edge, promised revenge, speaking openly within earshot of about two dozen U.S. soldiers who had sealed the narrow country road. But the local mood was characterized more by despair than rage.
“I believe it’s true because I feel so sad, like I lost one of my family members,” said Raid Sami Hussein, 21. “The arrest of Saddam Hussein is something sad for all Iraqis, and the resistance to the Americans will become even greater after this incident. . . . If they get one Saddam, 20 million Saddams will grow in his place.”
The administration kept the secret for the next 14 hours, while the military worked to conclusively verify Hussein’s identity and Bush’s aides made plans for managing the release of the best international news for the White House since the fall of Baghdad in April.
Vice President Cheney went through with an appearance at a Republican fundraiser after Bush called him with the news late Saturday afternoon. As frantic preparations continued for announcing the arrest, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other members of Bush’s war cabinet calmly worked the crowds at Christmas parties all over Washington.
Bush told Rumsfeld that the capture must “be handled in a military fashion and be announced from Baghdad,” a senior official said. Administration officials explained that they wanted the news to appear to be a victory for the Iraqi people rather than a personal triumph for Bush, who six months before the invasion called Hussein “a guy that tried to kill my dad,” a reference to a 1993 assassination plot against former president George H.W. Bush.
With an eye on both U.S. and Iraqi audiences, Bush’s aides made tentative plans for administration officials in Iraq to announce the capture at 7 a.m. Eastern time (3 p.m. in Iraq), a schedule that slipped by only a few minutes.
The administration was so conscious of how the news would play in the Arab world that Bush canceled plans to attend St. John’s Church, an Episcopal congregation in Washington, yesterday morning because he did not want that to be the setting for his first public appearance after the capture.
After permitting himself that moment of satisfaction with Rumsfeld, Bush and his top aides tried to tamp down any public displays of elation or vindication, sticking to somber and cautious words in public. “It’s easy to become overly jubilant,” a senior administration official said. “There will still be some dark days ahead.”
The capture of Saddam Hussein is being greeted with near universal satisfaction in the international online media. For some in the English-speaking world, it is a vindication of President Bush’s foreign policy, sending a signal of American strength to dictators and terrorists. For more observers in the Arab world, it offers the United States a chance to salvage its failing occupation of Iraq.
Few doubt the Iraqi insurgency will go away. But even fewer doubt that, in the words of The Guardian in London, for President Bush, “Christmas came early.”
“Axis of evil dictators should know this is the end point of the defiance of US power,” declare the editors of The Australian, a national daily newspaper launched in 1964 by an aspiring businessman named Rupert Murdoch.
The editors recommend a long trial, “in which every detail and nuance of Hussein’s long and bloody and monstrous rule is laid before a global audience. It should be methodical, meticulous and comprehensive. It will serve to educate international opinion all over again, in fact more powerfully than the frequently clumsy American administration was able to do in the lead up to the war.”
In England, President Bush’s favorite tabloid, The Sun praises Prime Minister Tony Blair for his “key role in the capture of Saddam.”
“He never wavered for a moment, despite relentless sniping from the Labour Left. He stuck to his guns, and now he has his reward,” they say.
Even the antiwar Guardian of London is savoring what it called “a more truly liberating, emancipating moment than the bloodily chaotic fall of Baghdad to American arms last spring.”
Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler
Saddam Hussein’s arrest symbolizes major progress in wrapping up Iraq’s past, but the United States still faces complex challenges in sorting out Iraq’s future and winning support from the outside world — both essential to stabilizing the country enough to bring U.S. troops home.
The insurgency is only part of the problem. Under its own schedule, the Bush administration has less than seven months to bring together in a new democratic government ethnic and religious communities that have been divided for decades. It also has to re-create a country devastated by the world’s toughest economic sanctions and three wars during Hussein’s 24-year rule.
HE WAS FOUND, appropriately enough, crouching in a hole. Saddam Hussein, who will be remembered above all for the hundreds of thousands of people he condemned to mass graves, surrendered in ignominy from a miserable pit near the Tigris River. Unlike many of the mass murderers who preceded him, from Hitler to Pol Pot, he will probably live to stand trial for his crimes. “He will,” President Bush said yesterday, “face the justice he denied to millions.” For that, Iraqis can thank the skilled U.S. soldiers and intelligence analysts who managed to locate the former dictator Saturday night and arrest him without firing a shot. They can also begin to think with greater confidence about an Iraq where brutality and privation give way to the tolerant, modernizing and prosperous country that most people want.