U.S. troops captured Saddam Hussein near his home town of Tikrit in a major coup for Washington's beleaguered occupation force in Iraq. Grubby and bearded, apparently exhausted and resigned to his fate, the fugitive dictator was dug out by troops from a narrow hiding hole during a raid on a farm late on Saturday, the U.S. commander in Iraq told a news conference on Sunday. «Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,» a beaming U.S. administrator Paul Bremer said in his first, pithy comments. «The tyrant is a prisoner.» Amid scenes of undisguised jubilation at U.S. headquarters in Baghdad, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez played a video of the 66-year-old ousted leader, in a heavy black and grey beard, undergoing a medical examination that appeared to include the taking of saliva swabs for DNA testing. Sanchez also showed a still photograph, apparently taken later, of a shaven Saddam. Across the capital, gunfire crackled in celebration. Joy greeted final proof that the man who terrorised his people for 30 years and led them into three disastrous wars was now behind bars and facing trial, even possible execution, at Iraqi hands. «There were no injuries. Not a single shot was fired,» said Sanchez, adding that Saddam seemed «tired and resigned». It was a contrast to the end of Saddam's once powerful sons, Uday and Qusay, who went down guns blazing against an overwhelming U.S. force at a house in Mosul in July. Troops acting on a tip-off surrounded the farm outside Ad Dawr, just south of Tikrit, the city where Saddam was born into a poor family of minority Sunni Muslims. He rose through tribal contacts and a taste for ruthless violence to dominate the Arab nationalist Ba'ath party, which seized power in a 1968 coup. The soldiers finally tracked the fugitive down to the bottom of a narrow, man-sized pit, some two to three-metres (six to eight feet) deep, Sanchez said. BOON FOR BUSH The arrest is a major boon for U.S. President George W. Bush after seven months of increasingly bloody attacks on U.S. forces and their allies following Saddam's ousting on April 9. His campaign for re-election next year has been overshadowed by mounting casualties and wrangling with key allies over Iraq. It may break the spirit of some of his diehard supporters and ease anxieties of many Iraqis who lived in fear for three decades under a man who led them into three disastrous wars. U.S. officials will also hope to extract key intelligence on the alleged weapons programmes which formed the public grounds for Bush to go to war in defiance of many U.N. allies. Little evidence of banned weapons has been found
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