Ten years ago today, 4th Infantry Division captured Saddam Hussein, removing the insurgency’s leader and subsequently altering the course of the Iraq War.
At the time, the division was based out of Fort Hood. It left Iraq in the spring 2004, only to return in 2005 and 2007 before its eventual reassignment to Fort Carson, Colo., in 2009.
“The Iraqi people are far better off today than they were under Saddam,” said retired Lt. Col. Steve Russell, who served as the commander of 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, at the time of Hussein’s capture. “We forget how evil Saddam was.”
Russell is the author of “We Got Him!: A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.” His unit hunted for Hussein in his hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, in the months leading up to his December capture.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer famously said, confirming the news of Hussein’s capture by U.S. troops.
Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity following a trial by the Iraqi Special Tribunal. He was hanged at Camp Justice in Baghdad on Dec. 30, 2006, and the United States declared the end of the Iraq War in late 2011.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, currently the Army’s chief of staff, was the division’s commander at the time of Hussein’s capture. Neither he, nor Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, then III Corps and Fort Hood commander, said they expected immediate changes in the country’s circumstances following Hussein’s capture.
Still, regarding the division’s troops, “they’ve got a tremendous victory and a boost to their morale,” Metz said at the time.
Nearly 12,000 4th ID soldiers were in the country, with 600 1st Brigade troops involved in the capture.
Despite the significant capture, the U.S. involvement in the war continued another eight years, and violence within the country continues today.
While Russell acknowledged the sectarian violence has continued in the past decade, he maintained the country is significantly better off without its former dictator.
He was a man who murdered his own people and attacked nearly every neighboring country, Russell said.
Today, “there are still flaws, but there have been a lot of improvements,” he said, citing Iraq’s capability to now defend its own people.
Most importantly, moving forward, Iraq needs competent, all-encompassing leadership, Russell said. “With that, they will succeed as a nation.”
The U.S.-Iraq relationship is an important one, said the former battalion commander.
“We need to treat Iraq as the ally it is, and provide security to it as we would any other ally,” Russell said.