For a moment in early December, Donald Rumsfeld took the point in the hunt for Saddam Hussein. Leading a convoy of unmarked SUVs through the broad, flat streets of Kirkuk, he heads for an outpost of the 4th Infantry Division, which has been rolling up resisters in the most dangerous swath of Iraq, running north and west of Baghdad. Rumsfeld is warm and engaging as he enters the makeshift U.S. Army headquarters--hailing soldiers, shaking hands, working the room like the old Chicago pol he is. But after a few minutes his face darkens, and the more notorious Rumsfeld emerges. Sitting at a briefing table, Major General Raymond Odierno, the 4th Infantry Division commander, is flashing a laser pointer back and forth from maps to charts to flat-screen displays when Rumsfeld abruptly cuts him off.
"What's happened since I was here [in September]?" Rumsfeld demands to know. Odierno rattles off an answer, but the flak intensifies. "How many people are you capturing or killing in a week?" Rumsfeld asks. Two hundred captured, up to 100 killed, Odierno responds. "Of those captured, how many do you throw back?" Ten percent. "And the rest we're locking up?" We've locked up probably over 4,000, sir. "Are you getting any decent intelligence?" Sometimes, but a commander always wants more. "How much of the information you get is someone getting even with their next-door neighbors?" About 10%. "How many Americans or coalition have been killed in the last three months in your area?" About 20. "And the Iraqi security forces?" Less than that. "Do you feel we're effectively using the reward money to track down the remaining senior people?" Yes, it's helping a lot. Rumsfeld then wonders aloud why someone hasn't ratted out Saddam for the cash: "I'm dumbfounded when I think about it. I mean, the chances of us stumbling on one of these top three or four people is about zero. The chances of us using that kind of money to find somebody who wants that kind of money, who does understand that kind of money, to figure out how to invest some time and develop a network and produce the information that would do it--I mean, that ought to be doable."
As it turned out, it was doable--whether money mattered or not. Seven days later, at 2:45 p.m., on a cold, quiet Saturday in Washington, an aide interrupted Rumsfeld in his Pentagon office with word that U.S. Central Command boss General John Abizaid was on the phone from Qatar. Rumsfeld took the call standing at his desk and learned that Saddam was in captivity. Rumsfeld had no advance notice of the raid; he had devoted more than two hours that morning to discussing how to retool the military for the 21st century with the Joint Chiefs, eaten a quick lunch and spent 45 minutes chatting with two TIME correspondents, all the while unaware of the drama unfolding along the Tigris 6,200 miles away. Now, taking notes as he listened to Abizaid, Rumsfeld showed no emotion. The two men discussed the possibility of having mistakenly nabbed a double and not Saddam himself--both had been down that road before. But this time Abizaid was virtually certain, and Rumsfeld rang off to telephone the President with the news. Rumsfeld's late-afternoon schedule was scrubbed, a hoped-for game of squash canceled. At a holiday party that night at his home, he gave no hint that he had the ace in the hole.