"I Punched Saddam in the Mouth"

Meet Samir, the St. Louis auto mechanic who pulled Saddam Hussein from his spider hole

Back at the farmhouse, Special Forces couldn't find Saddam or the hidden bunker.

"The farmers wouldn't tell us anything," says Samir. "We were beating the shit out of them, but they weren't talking."

Desperate, they pulled the bodyguard from the Humvee and demanded that he tell them the location of the bunker.

Dazed and abused: After silencing Saddam with a 
flurry of punches, Samir props up the prisoner for 
what would become a world-famous photo.
Dazed and abused: After silencing Saddam with a flurry of punches, Samir props up the prisoner for what would become a world-famous photo.
Dazed and abused: After silencing Saddam with a 
flurry of punches, Samir props up the prisoner for 
what would become a world-famous photo.
Dazed and abused: After silencing Saddam with a flurry of punches, Samir props up the prisoner for what would become a world-famous photo.

Samir thought the bodyguard was again trying to deceive them when he told the soldiers they were actually standing on top of Saddam's secret bunker.

"I gave him a few slaps on the face and said, 'What do you mean I'm standing on it?' We couldn't see anything. All there was was dirt and leaves. But we got some shovels off the trucks and started digging. Immediately we hit something."

Samir says a soldier fired several blank rounds into the bunker's exposed opening, and a man's voice cried out from the spider hole, pleading for his life.

"He said, 'Don't shoot. Don't kill me,'" recounts Samir.

Peering into the hole, Samir could make out only part of the man. In Arabic, Samir told the fugitive that if he wanted to live, he needed to get out now. When Samir asked to see the man's hands, he showed his right hand, and then his left, but he wouldn't show both at the same time.

"No, I want to see both your hands," Samir yelled.

Keeping an eye on the man's hands, Samir plunged into the hole and grabbed the prisoner. Samir says he knew right away that it was the deposed dictator.

"He smelled bad, like a homeless person, and had the long beard and hair, but I knew it was Saddam. I told everyone, 'It's Saddam. It's Saddam!'"

Unconvinced, Special Forces had Samir ask the captive his identity. When the man answered that his name was Saddam, Samir says he shook him by his hair and dirt-matted beard.

"I said, 'Yeah, Saddam what? Saddam what?' Finally he said, 'Hussein.'"

Upon hearing that, Samir unleashed years of pent-up rage.

"I told him that I was going to fuck him up the ass. That we were all going to fuck him up the ass. I told him he was a criminal and a murderer. I hit him and spit in his face. I stepped my foot on his head and his back. He wasn't crying, but I think he was shocked. No one had ever treated him this way."

The beating over, Samir tossed his digital camera to a nearby soldier, who quickly snapped a shot of Samir kneeling over the fallen despot.

Later, when the world's most wanted man was whisked onto an awaiting helicopter, Samir remembers Saddam muttering to himself in English, asking the same question again and again: "America, why? America, why?"

An hour later, as Saddam sat in the Baath Chair for his initial interrogation, Samir joined an adrenaline-fueled celebration taking place in a makeshift palace bar. Samir and his photos became the center of attention. Several members of Special Forces abandoned their Heinekens long enough to download the photos onto their laptops.

It was a hell of a party, Samir recalls, but amid the back slaps, toasts and laughter, he felt a nervous twinge in his gut. During the capture Samir's commanding officer scolded him for taking the photo of Saddam, and now he panicked that the attention surrounding the picture could raise further ire.

Before going to bed that night, Samir downloaded the photos onto his laptop, replaced the camera's memory card with a new one and hid the chip containing the images deep within his luggage.

Samir was a twenty-year-old college student living in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah when he joined a civilian uprising against Saddam. It was 1991, and U.S. and coalition fighters had just declared a ceasefire after liberating Kuwait.

Encouraged by the Republican Guard's swift defeat, Samir grabbed the family AK-47 and joined thousands of southern Shiites organizing a massive rebellion. In hindsight, Samir says, the revolution was doomed from the start.

The ceasefire allowed Saddam to regroup and launch a counterattack against his own people. It soon became clear that the United States never planned to assist the Shiites with any tactical support. The failure of the U.S. government to provide military assistance during the uprising still strikes a sour chord with Samir and countless other Shiites.

"We were defenseless," fumes Samir. "Saddam began a retaliation campaign with tanks and helicopters. Our guns were useless."

Samir lost a cousin in the fighting. In other anti-Saddam strongholds, such as the southern city of Basra, Saddam's forces slaughtered thousands. Republican Guard tanks were reported to be painted with the message "After today, no more Shiites."

"I knew I had to leave," reflects Samir. "Everyone in my village knew I was part of the uprising. It was only a matter of time before [Saddam's forces] would kill me."

Three weeks after taking up arms, Samir told his parents he was going to flee the country. Reluctantly they agreed.

For 500 dinar (about $3.50 at the time) a smuggler hid Samir in the back of a van and drove him within twenty miles of U.S. military fortifications along the Iraqi-Saudi Arabian border. Samir would walk the rest of the journey, crossing desert and barren farmland before surrendering himself to a U.S. soldier.

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