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Former Iraqi vice president held by U.S. military, officials say

Former top Iraqi Vice President Ramadan shown in a file photo.
Former top Iraqi Vice President Ramadan shown in a file photo.

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Taha Yasin Ramadan was captured by Kurdish fighters and handed to U.S. forces.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's former vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan is being held in U.S. custody, U.S. military and Kurdish officials told CNN on Tuesday.

Ramadan was the senior of two vice presidents in Saddam Hussein's regime and had been with Saddam Hussein since the start of the toppled Iraqi leader's rise to power.

The former vice president is an ethnic Kurd who is believed to have coordinated the brutal suppression of 1991's Shia rebellion in southern Iraq. He is No. 20 on the U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted members of the Saddam regime. He is pictured on the 10 of diamonds in a special deck of cards distributed to U.S. forces in Iraq.

Officials with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said their forces had captured Ramadan in the northern city of Mosul and handed him over to the U.S. military on Monday, but U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Ray Shephard in Tampa, Florida, said those details were still being checked.

In Washington, Pentagon sources told CNN that Ramadan had been "handed over" to U.S. forces.

President Bush said he was pleased at the news. "Slowly but surely, we'll find who we need to find," Bush told reporters near his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Ramadan is the 36th former Iraqi official on the most wanted list to be captured. Two others are dead, two are suspected as possibly dead and one is listed as "status unknown."

Ramadan -- like Saddam -- is a Sunni Muslim. He was born in Mosul and began his career as a bank clerk. Eventually he helped plan and execute the 1968 coup that brought Saddam to power.

When named Iraq's minister of industry in the 1970s, Ramadan was quoted as saying, "I don't know anything about industry, all I know is that anyone who doesn't work hard will be executed."

Ken Pollack, CNN analyst on Iraq, described Ramadan as a "horrible person."

"I can't say for certain he was a war criminal, but I'd be willing to bet a year's salary he was," Pollack said. "It's great to get him off the streets."

Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Ramadan has maintained a low profile. But more recently, he suggested that Saddam and Bush settle their differences in a duel.

The former leader of the paramilitary Popular Army, Ramadan survived several assassination attempts during his career.

He was last known to be seen in public at a March 29 news conference, after a suicide bomber killed four U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint in the Iraqi town of Najaf.

"This is only the beginning and you will hear more good news in the coming days," Ramadan said at that news conference. "These bastards will be welcomed at the level and in the way they deserve."

"We have the right to use any means," Ramadan said, calling on Iraqis "to attack them in their homes."

"We can have ... a suicide martyr that can kill 5,000 in one mission," he said.

To avoid that future, Ramadan told the U.S.-led coalition to "pack your bags and leave us alone."

Instead, it was Ramadan and the other members of Saddam's government who packed their bags and fled Baghdad as U.S. forces took the capital less than two weeks later.

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