Saddam Hussein capture marks 10-year anniversary

December 12th, 2013 | by Denise Goolsby | Comments

Iraqi-American Samir, 34, translator for the U.S. Special Forces, pinning deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the ground during his capture in Tikrit./U.S. Army photo

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was pulled from his spider hole hideaway by U.S. forces – led by the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division – on Dec. 13, 2003 in the town of ad-Dawr, Iraq, near Tikri.

The nine-month manhunt transfixed the world – as only the search and eventual killing of  Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 has since.

The continents – at least those whose countries were allied with the U.S. – no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief on both occasions.


A license plate holder (pre-Saddam capture) at the Take 5 Deli in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. /Liz Kelly Nelson, The Desert Sun

No matter your politics, when the bad (really bad) guy is caught, the country cheers.

When Paul Bremer, head of U.S. occupation in Iraq, took the podium and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him” – announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein – the press room erupted in cheers.

I can imagine the scene was pretty much the same in most of the households across the country.

The lead up

On March 20th, 2003 Coalition troops invaded Iraq to oust dictator Saddam Hussein from power and free the Iraqi people. Within three weeks, U.S. forces secured Baghdad, but Hussein had escaped the capital city. A nine-month hunt for the deposed president followed.

According to U.S. Army reports, following the collapse of Hussein’s regime, the 4th Infantry Division occupied the area in and around Tikrit, Hussein’s family home.

Several Tactical Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Teams consisting of U.S. Army interrogators, counterintelligence agents, and interpreters, also deployed throughout the area in the summer of 2003. The daily interactions of these teams with local Iraqi citizens generated a vast amount of information about Hussein’s family network.

Intelligence analysts with the 4th Infantry Division’s, 1st Brigade Combat Team developed a “Three Tier Strategy” based around five families who had known Hussein since his youth.

Army Intelligence personnel with the 1st BCT and Special Operations Task Force 121 created Link Analysis Diagrams showing Hussein’s network. They began with personal relationships between his closest confidants and family members. As individuals were captured or detained, interrogations revealed further connections, all of which were plotted on the diagrams. Raids of suspects’ homes netted additional evidence of unexpected connections in the network.

This work culminated on the evening of Dec. 13, 2003. As part of Operation Red Dawn, the 1st Brigade Combat Team and Task Force 121 targeted two farmhouses near the Tigris River. The initial search failed to locate Hussein; however, two cooperating HUMINT sources eventually revealed his hiding spot. Converging on the newly revealed location, Task Force 121 discovered a concealed hole in which the former dictator was hiding.


Saddam Hussein after capture/U.S. Department of Defense

According to U.S. Army reports, when the Task Force Soldiers pulled the cover off the “spider hole,” a shaggy, bearded man raised his hands and said, “I am Saddam Hussein. I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.” The commando leader calmly replaced the cover on the hole and replied, “President Bush sends his regards.”

The 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division was commanded by then-Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno – now Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army – and led by Col. James Hickey of the 4th Infantry Division.


The 9 mm Glock pistol Hussein had when he was captured – presented to President George W. Bush by troops closely involved in his capture – is on display on the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

On Nov. 5, 2006, the  Iraqi Special Tribunal sentenced Hussein to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on Dec. 30, 2006.

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