BAGHDAD, Iraq - Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former Iraqi vice president known as "Saddam's knuckles" for his ruthlessness against regime enemies, was captured by Kurdish fighters Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and turned over to U.S. forces.
Ramadan, who was reportedly disguised in peasant clothing when he was caught, once was considered Iraq's second-most powerful man, but his influence declined in the later years of Saddam Hussein's regime. He was No. 20 on the U.S. list of most-wanted former regime figures.
Pentagon spokeswoman Chief Petty Officer Diane Perry confirmed that Ramadan was turned over to the U.S. Army on Tuesday.
President Bush expressed pleasure over Ramadan's capture, saying, "Slowly but surely, we'll find who we need to find. It's just a matter of time."
Asked if the capture made him hopeful Saddam himself would soon be nabbed, Bush said: "We'll find him and we'll bring him to justice."
Fighters from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan captured Ramadan, 65, said Kasrat Rasouli, an official with the group in Sulaimaniyah. He gave no further details. The capture took place in Mosul, Ramadan's hometown.
Ramadan was disguised in traditional Arab peasant clothes when he was captured with his family, a Kurdish source said on condition of anonymity.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan spokesman Latif Rashid told The Associated Press from London that Ramadan "was hiding among his relatives or colleagues."
Mosul was also where Saddam's sons Qusai and Odai were hiding when U.S. forces raided their hideout, sparking a furious gunbattle that killed the two brothers, a bodyguard and Qusai's son.
Ramadan, who became vice president in March 1991 and was a Revolutionary Command Council member, was widely considered to be as ruthless as Saddam. He headed a 1970 court that executed 44 officers for plotting to overthrow the regime.
During a visit to Jordan in the 1980s, he was asked by Muslim fundamentalists what the Baath Party's attitude to Islam was.
Ramadan replied that Muslims were free to pray and follow their faith, "but if they try to harm the Baathist regime or ridicule its slogans, the regime will break their necks!"
Ramadan is high on the list of regime figures Iraqi opposition groups say should be tried for war crimes. He was the 10 of diamonds on the U.S. deck of cards portraying leaders of Saddam's government.
Of the 55 former regime figures on the U.S. most-wanted list, 36 are in custody, 15 remain at large, two have been confirmed killed and two have been reported killed.
Born in 1938, Ramadan joined the underground Baath Party in 1956 and became close to Saddam. After the 1968 coup by the party, he held several ministerial posts and became a member of the regional command in 1969.
During the 1980s, he was deputy prime minister and was for a time considered the second-most powerful man in Iraq after Saddam.
He was said to have presided over many purges carried out by Saddam to eliminate rivals and strengthen his political control.
He lauded the execution of Iraqi officials found guilty of bribery as necessary "lessons for the others" and often took a harder line than Saddam in denouncing the United States, Israel and other states deemed hostile to Baghdad.
He once described the U.S. Congress as little more than an extension of Israel's Knesset, or parliament.
But for all his ruthlessness, Ramadan obeyed Saddam in all things.
Shortly before the end of Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran, Saddam ruled that too many Iraqi officials were getting fat while the troops at the front were fighting for the nation's survival.
He published the weights of his Cabinet ministers and the weights he felt they should be, then gave them 30 days to slim down. The flabby Ramadan was told to shed 60 pounds -- and did.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun