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Journalists Visit Saddam's Hiding Place - 2003-12-15


U.S. troops have taken journalists to the farmhouse near Tikrit where former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was discovered Saturday hiding in a small, underground hole.

The commanding officer of the unit which conducted Saturday's raid, Colonel James Hickey, says he and his troops were shocked by what they saw when they first entered the small, walled mud-brick compound in a rural village, 15 kilometers south of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.

"What we found surprised us," he said. "We did not think it would be so humble and simple."

Journalists saw what the troops had seen two days earlier, a small windowless bedroom with dirty clothes hanging from a clothesline over a single bed. A counter in a makeshift open-air kitchen was littered with bits of leftover rice and bread, and there was a sink full of unwashed dishes. The yard was full of scraps of rusting metal, old tires and other junk scattered around.

Colonel Hickey says the troops found the derelict compound, piecing together information given to them by an unidentified man arrested during a raid a day earlier in Baghdad. The colonel says his unit had been hunting for the man because of his strong family ties to Saddam.

"We had that individual transported to Tikrit, and upon his arrival he went through a series of questions," said Colonel Hickey. "Our initial assessment was that Saddam was in the Tikrit area."

After obtaining further information, First Brigade Sergeant Major Larry Wilson says U.S. troops narrowed their search to the farmhouse. Special Forces troops, backed up by nearly 600 other soldiers, took the lead and burst into the compound.

Two men spotted running away were arrested immediately. Then, Sergeant Major Wilson says, the troops began an intensive search for a secret underground hideaway.

"They were looking for an underground facility," he said. "That is what we were told."

Near the kitchen area on the ground, the soldiers discovered a cloth carpet covered with dirt. Pulling the carpet back, they found a Styrofoam panel that plugged a hole leading to a tiny chamber, just large enough for a man to squeeze into.

Another Fourth Infantry soldier, Major Brian Reed, says Special Forces soldiers peering down into the hole saw a wild-looking man with a long, flowing beard cradling a loaded handgun in his lap. Major Reed says the man addressed the troops in English.

"He said, 'I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate.' And the response from the U.S. troops was, 'President Bush sends his regards.'"

The farmhouse where Saddam was captured is just across the Tigris River from one of his opulent marble palaces, where the Fourth Infantry Division troops are headquartered.

Watching the triumphant American troops outside the palace, Tikrit resident Musahim Mahmud Al-Jaburi said people here loved Saddam and for a good reason.

"I assure you that everyone in this town is feeling sad about the arrest of Saddam," said Mr. Al-Jaburi. "This is Saddam's hometown, and he was very important to us because he gave all of us a lot of money. Now we will live like paupers, just like Saddam, the fugitive."