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'Dark and Painful Era' Over for Iraq, says Bush - 2003-12-15

President Bush says a dark and painful era is over for Iraq, while cautioning that the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean there will be a quick end to violence.

The president says Saddam Hussein will now face the justice he denied millions.

"The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq," said Mr. Bush. "It marks the end of the road for him and for all who bullied and killed in his name."

In brief remarks from the White House, the president urged the Iraqi people to reject violence, saying a hopeful day has arrived for their country. "You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again," he said. "All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side."

There was a slight restraint to the president's words. While obviously pleased with the capture of the ousted Iraqi leader, his tone was serious and calm. He made clear this is a welcome, historic development. But in praising the work of U.S. troops in Iraq, he emphasized many dangers remain.

"The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq," emphasized Mr. Bush. "We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent, than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people and they will be defeated."

The president opened his address by describing Saddam Hussein's capture Saturday in a raid on a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit.

Mr. Bush first got word of the raid a short time after it occurred from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who called him at Camp David, the presidential retreat. At the time, military officials said there were markings on the man in custody that led them to believe they had the former Iraqi leader.

The tone of that first conversation was cautious. The final confirmation came before dawn the next morning in Washington, passed from the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, though White House national security advisor Condoleezza Rice to the president who had returned to the White House.

The White House west wing is usually quiet on Sundays. But by the time dawn broke it was bustling with activity. Top aides were in, the press room was packed, and President Bush was busy on the phone behind closed doors.

Among the first called were the leaders of key U.S. allies in the war: Britain, Spain, Poland, Italy and Australia. The heads of several Middle Eastern countries also talked to Mr. Bush, including Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as well as the acting chair of the Iraqi Governing Council.