Today is the anniversary of “Operation Red Dawn,” an American military action which was executed on this day in 2003. The operation, named after the 1984 fictional war movie starring Patrick Swayze, took place in the town of ad-Dawr, in northern Iraq, near Tikrit, and led to the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who had been on the run at that point for approximately nine months. In observance of the anniversary of the military operation, on this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq, located at 3421 Massachusetts (MAP) in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of northwest D.C.
Saddam’s downfall began on March 20th of that year, when the United States led a multi-national coalition of military forces into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years. Saddam went into hiding soon after the American-led invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape.
After declaring Saddam the most important of a list of his regime’s 55 most-wanted members, the U.S. began an intense search for the former leader and his closest advisors. Five months later, on December 13, 2003, U.S. soldiers found him hiding nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit, in a “spider hole”, which is military parlance for a camouflaged one-man hole in the ground. Saddam, the man once obsessed with hygiene, was found hiding in the dirt, unkempt, with a bushy beard and matted hair. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.”
After an investigation and being interrogated by the FBI, Saddam was eventually tried by a Iraqi special tribunal on several criminal counts, and was found guilty of crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal, the execution was carried out on December 30, 2006.
After getting back from my bike ride to the embassy, I took a look at the newspaper from eleven years ago today. It was in a stack of old newspapers I keep in my office. Whenever there is a significant news story that results in what’s called a “banner” headline, I buy an extra copy of that day’s newspaper and throw it on the stack that’s behind the door to my office, where I have a collection of newspapers dating all the way back to 1980 with a headline that reads, “Reagan Landslide!”