Chapter 8: The Capture of Saddam


    Sunday, December 14, 2003

    From Baghad, The Green Zone

    Sunday, as I have told you a thousand times, is a work day here in Iraq. Friday is the day-of-rest.

    As you know, I mostly get around by overhearing conversations and begging to be brought along. I have been trying to get out to visit with the Public Affairs folks at the First Armored Division for several weeks.

    As they are only out at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) you would think this would be pretty easy.

    It's not.

    You can't just hop in a cab and say "Take me to the airport." Nor can you get on a subway.

    There are cabs, but they don't come around the Green Zone - or if they do I don't know where they are.

    There is no subway, so there is no subway to take.

    A group of folks from my office mentioned they were heading out to the airport to pick up some colleagues who had been down south and were flying back in.

    My ears perked up and I asked if I could tag along and, after they said "sure," I further asked them if they could drop me at the division headquarters.

    SIDEBAR:

    The First Armored Division is not called "The First A-D." It is called, by those of us who are grizzled veterans, "One-A-D."

    And a division's headquarters is not called "Division Headquarters." It is called, "Division Main."

    END SIDEBAR

    I needed to go to the airport to deliver some Christmas goodies which had been sent to me by Mullster Alexandra Mulkern.

    Here's what some of the things looked like:


    I forgot to put the jelly beans into the photo.

    There were five boxes of these items. I decided that I wouldn't dole them out to the civilians here in The Palace in Baghdad. I decided to have then sent them to Tikrit where, as you now know, the 4th Infantry Division is headquartered.

    I was up there last week, about which I was going to write tonight, but I'll get to that later in the week.

    Everyone I spoke to on at the military side of the airport was happy to help. This is a busy time for them. A lot of military personnel and a lot of civilians are trying to fly out on those C-130s to get home for the holidays.

    Nevertheless, when I explained what was in the boxes and why I thought sending them to the 4th ID was a good idea; they helped me figure out how to do it.

    The boxes will be in Tikrit by the end of the week. They will now be not just a Christmas present, but a victory present as well.

    Ms. Mulkern - thank you. It took the better part of three hours to arrange, but worth every second.

    And this was before the news broke.

    I begged a ride from the military airfield to Division Main and caught up with the division public affairs officer who is responsible for dealing with hometown newspapers, radio stations, and television, 1 Lt. Shelly Walsh.

    We had lunch, talked about what we had to talk about, and were preparing to drive back over to the military side of the BIAP when one of their translators came bursting through the door shouting something in Arabic.

    As I don't speak Arabic very well, I thought someone had been in an accident outside.

    Another person said she was shouting that Saddam had been captured.

    We hustled over to the television and watched the agonizingly long gossip-rumor-anecdote phase of the story.

    Suddenly, an Arab man named Uday came through the door and shouted - in accented English - "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

    Someone asked him why he was saying that.

    "Because Saddam is caught! It is the best Christmas present!"


    This was Uday showing us whether he believes whether the Saddam-is-captured story is true or not.

    As it turned out, Uday had better sources than we did. He was right.

    I was driven back to the MilAir area to wait for the shuttle bus back to the Green Zone. It was delayed for one reason or another so I went into the departure tent to watch the news and wait. As I mentioned the number of people trying to get out for the holidays made the tent pretty full.

    During the run up to the press conference with Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez I was struck by how quiet everyone was. Even as the news broke that Iraqi Governing Council members were confirming Saddam had been captured the tent was quiet.


    This is the big screen TV showing the Armed Forces Network feed of the briefing room at the convention center in the Green Zone.

    I realized why I was sensing unease: They were within hours of getting on an airplane and out of the country. They were worried that - for whatever reason - this news might cause all leaves to be cancelled.

    They were quiet through Ambassador L. Paul Bremer's remarks ("Ladies and Gentlemen. We got him.")

    They were quiet through the remarks of the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council - if only because he spoke in Arabic and AFN didn't provide a translation.

    And they were quiet through the opening remarks of General Ricardo Sanchez. Until Sanchez ran the footage of Saddam being examined by a dentist.

    Then they couldn't contain themselves. The tent exploded in cheers.

    Soldiers celebrating a victory. It has a certain tone which, if you hear it, you recognize it.

    Meanwhile back at the convention center the Iraqi reporters also exploded into cheers at the sight of Saddam under arrest.


    This photo was taken by colleague Elissa Pruett.

    The guy who stood and shouted for about thirty seconds might have been saying "death to Saddam." But some of the Arabists in the office think he was shouting - er - "[the f-word] Saddam," if you know what I mean and I think you do.

    Elissa, during the evening, said something I had been thinking: That we captured Saddam shortly after we removed his 15-foot heads from atop The Palace. The day the first one came down, a rainbow appeared over one of the others. I got it:

    When I finally drifted back into the office at about 5:30 local time someone said, "Oh. You're here!"

    I admitted I was, in fact, here.

    "When you were gone all afternoon we thought you'd hitched a ride up to Tikrit to see what was going on."

    If I'd have thought of it, I would have.

    As soon as the rumors about Saddam began spreading in early afternoon, the Iraqis here began what is known celebratory fire which includes shooting a weapon into the air and having the bullet come down they know not where.

    At one point during the evening I got a call from Fox in New York asking what I knew about a series of explosions.

    I said we hadn't heard them in the Green Zone, so if they were mortars they must have been pretty far away.

    We got a report that a spent round had landed on the back of a car carrying four propane tanks.

    Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

    Four propane tanks and a car sent to celebratory fire heaven.

    Something to consider as you think about this day. There is a rule in politics which states: Good news is delivered by the highest possible source. Bad news is delivered by the lowest possible source.

    Without drawing any comparisons, I think it says volumes about President George W. Bush that he allowed Bremer and Sanchez - the two guys whose necks are quite literally on the line here every day - to make the official announcement.

    -----

    One more point and I'll let you go. Last week Glenn Reynolds, of instapundit.com fame, ran a photo of me in a blazer and tie and my body armor.

    He wrote that I looked like I was waiting for someone to beat me up for my lunch money. He was right. I did.

    However, I present this photo as an invitation to anyone who'd like to come over here and try it:


    This was taken during my actual trip to Tikrit earlier in the week. More about that and a trip to Bahrain next time.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

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