Ladies and Gentlemen….We got him.
With those words L. Paul Bremer opened the press conference announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Great sound bite, but can’t even begin to capture the level of emotion present in the CPA briefing room.
Most of the military and U.S. civilians in the room broke out into spontaneous applause. Broad smiles were in evidence all over the room if you were U.S. or Brit military, or an Iraqi civilian. But the real emotion was reserved for the showing of the video of Saddam getting his medical exam. The news clips of that portion of the press conference don’t do it justice. The emotion was intense, raw and visceral. One reporter broke down completely and began weeping for several minutes and no one, no one begrudged him his moment.
There were tears and sniffles and fulsome praise (in Arabic) for LTG Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer. But relief was present in the room too, on the part of the Iraqi reporters and civilians in attendance.
At another portion of the conference there was another spontaneous outpouring by Iraqis and a U.S. Lieutenant Colonel looked at me and had one word. “Wow.”
“Been out to Abu Ghraib prison, Sir?”
“Go there. It probably explains their emotion.”
When LTG Sanchez described Saddam as “a man resigned to his fate,” there were plenty of knowing looks and low level whispering amongst the Iraqis there.
Right now as I sit next to several TVs news programs flogging the exact same info and twisting it into a dozen different (occasionally incorrect) spins I can’t help but feel the same way, “Wow.”
I was downtown late morning and I got a call from a buddy.
“Where are you?”
“Near the Sheraton, why?”
“Get here, NOW. Or you’re going to be caught in a lead rainstorm.”
“HVT-1.” [High Value Target-1, our little nickname for Saddam.]
“Roger, en route most tick.”
That was my first clue, and he wasn’t kidding either, because about an hour later when the news broke it sounded like two infantry battalions going at it in downtown Baghdad. I’ve collected several rounds of various calibers that just fell nearby as we were outside talking. You don’t have to look hard for them. They’re falling everywhere. Needless to say everyone in the Green Zone is wearing helmets today.
I happened to be in the rotunda of the CPA headquarters when LTG Sanchez walked out of Ambassador Bremer’s office, probably to head over to the press center. LTG Sanchez doesn’t smile very much, which you pick up on when he holds press conferences. There were about 2 dozen or so Iraqis who clean and help with facilities construction hanging out in the office across from the Ambassador’s office watching the news of Saddam’s capture. When this crew saw Bremer and Sanchez walk out they started cheering and shouting “Victory!” It took a few seconds, but LTG Sanchez finally smiled and acknowledged their thanks. Watching these folks stare in awe at the TV news on the Arab news channels and then seeing them greet Ambassador Bremer and LTG Sanchez was worth the entire trip here. It was history.
Will this mean we’re out of here more quickly? Probably not. Does it mean fewer U.S. soldiers will be killed or injured? Most probably. Intelligence tips were already on the rise but now they are likely to skyrocket. However, I’ll make one other prediction.
Al-Jazeera, and two rather notorious Iraqi bloggers will withhold final judgment until the longer more conclusive DNA test comes in.
They just can’t stand to see us win.
Denial in Baghdad is a way of life for some.
After listening to the questions from U.S. reporters in the room, I’ll be looking for their bylines tomorrow and comparing them. Because one got the distinct sense that these stories are written before the reporters even walk in the room, and the questions asked are designed solely to elicit information to confirm their pre-existing biases. One gets that also from the looks on their faces as they ask them.
More tomorrow, insh’allah.
Meanwhile, no way around it. This is a win.