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Bloodless Capture of Saddam Marks Important Victory for US Forces - 2003-12-15

U.S. forces have scored an important victory in Iraq: capturing Saddam Hussein in a bloodless operation near Tikrit. But U.S. officials acknowledge the capture of the former Iraqi leader will not mean an immediate end to the ongoing terrorist violence in the country.

When he ruled Iraq, Saddam Hussein lived in opulently-furnished palaces. But when the former dictator was captured by U.S. forces, he was found hiding in what the military called a tiny "spider hole," a barren pit about two meters deep with just enough space in it for a person to lie down.

The "spider hole" was in a small, mud-walled farm compound near Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. The ousted Iraqi leader was found with some 750 thousand U.S. dollars. But instead of one of his luxury limousines, the only vehicle at the compound was a white and orange taxi.

American officials rejoiced at the news of Saddam's capture. President Bush called it a development crucial to the future of a free Iraq. Major General Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division forces who seized Saddam, said there was now no doubt the former Iraqi leader would never return to power. Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, characterized it as a great day in Iraq's history.

The fact that Saddam had eluded coalition forces for months after his regime was toppled had been a constant thorn in the side of the Bush administration. Critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom linked Saddam's escape to the failure of U.S. forces to uncover any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, suggesting these gaps meant the U.S. victory was anything but complete.

Senior officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that killing or capturing Saddam was important because many Iraqis still feared he could somehow return to power. There was among these Iraqis a reluctance to cooperate fully with the coalition or even to criticize Saddam for fear he could stage a comeback.

But senior U.S. officials had remained confident he would be caught, calling for patience as their quest for fresh intelligence about the former Iraqi leader went on.

Their patience paid off with what the military called Operation Red Dawn, launched after commanders said they had obtained so-called actionable intelligence about two likely locations where Saddam could be hiding.

Now officials are calling for continued patience as the war on terrorism in Iraq continues. President Bush, addressing the nation Sunday, acknowledged Saddam's capture would not mean an end to violence in Iraq. But he said American forces will persevere and that the terrorists will eventually be defeated.

The reason U.S. officials believe the terrorism will continue is that the insurgent forces responsible for the ongoing bombings and other attacks on coalition troops in Iraq were not thought to be under Saddam's direct control.

At a recent news conference, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said there was no reason to believe the former Iraqi leader was involved in the day-to-day management of the opposition.

But Mr. Rumsfeld also said coalition forces are putting as much pressure as possible on Saddam's remaining loyalists, a process that defense officials say will go on until the last of what Mr. Rumsfeld calls the "dead-enders" is killed or, like Saddam Hussein, is captured.