'Ladies and gentlemen, we got him'

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 15 December 2003 01:00

It was a little after 7am and snowing on the east coast of America when Paul Bremer addressed an afternoon press conference in Baghdad.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," the US administrator in Iraq declared, his words smacking of President George Bush's blunter comments.

While the press conference erupted in cheers - with some Iraqis present shouting "death to Saddam" - those Americans who had their televisions on were rubbing their eyes, partly in disbelief at news of the former Iraqi leader's capture.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that across the US those who were awake phoned family and friends to share what will undoubtedly become a "where-were-you-when-you-heard-the-news" moment. Internet chat sites rapidly filled with comment and conspiracy.

As America woke, the television anchors on even the supposedly calmer US networks could barely conceal their excitement as the astonishing video footage of a dishevelled Saddam being examined by US doctors was constantly repeated. "It's hard to look larger than life when someone's examining your hair for lice," crowed one presenter on CNN.

CBS's veteran anchor Dan Rather said it appeared to be "terrific news" for the US. NBC's Tom Brokaw said that for Saddam, "it could not have been a more undignified situation. He was literally a rat trapped in a hole." There was much mention made that Saddam, the so-called 'Beast of Baghdad', had put up no resistance.

The Bush administration and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are hoping the footage will persuade sceptical Iraqis that Saddam's regime has finally been ousted. Mr Bush will also be optimistic that it can convince the American people that his policies are working.

The first suggestion that Saddam had been captured came not from the White House, the Pentagon or the CPA, but from the state-run news service in Iran, another member of Mr Bush's "axis of evil". TEHRAN-SADDAM HUSSEIN ARRESTED IN TIKRIT-IRNA NEWS AGENCY, QUOTING KURDISH LEADER, came the newsflash, all in capitals, at 9.52am GMT. The report quoted Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. A few minutes later a report filed by the Associated Press in Tikrit reported that rumours of Saddam's capture had sent hundreds of exuberant people into the streets, firing and cheering.

President Bush was first told that Saddam may have been captured on Saturday afternoon when his Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, called the presidential retreat, Camp David. He received confirmation at about 5am local time yesterday, when Mr Bremer telephoned Mr Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

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