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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saddam Claus Brings Holiday Cheer

APThe Iraqi daily Azzaman carrying a copy of a Christmas card of Saddam Hussein that is being exchanged by U.S. soldiers.
TIKRIT, Iraq -- Christmas came early this year for some 30,000 U.S. troops in Tikrit who caught ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein near his hometown a week ago -- and how better to celebrate than with a captivating card?

The Saddam Santa card features a picture of the heavily bearded former dictator as he looked when he was pulled from his hiding hole earlier this month-- except Hussein is dolled up in a red hat and his whiskers are whiter than white.

This photograph and others like it are springing up as decorations around the barracks of a U.S. army unit in Iraq and have become popular as greeting cards.

"1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry wishes you a very Merry Christmas!" reads the card, which is also decorated with the battalion's insignia.

The unit, part of the 4th Infantry Division, also used the card in a front-page advertisement in Tuesday editions of the local Arabic Azzaman newspaper.

Pictures of Hussein taken after he was pulled out of a hole in the ground 15 kilometers south of Tikrit drew criticism from the Vatican, which said they were degrading, but have proven an easy target for soldiers who regard him as an evil dictator.

"The fact that we have captured Saddam makes the ending of the year a lot better than the uncertainty of the beginning," said battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Steven Russell, who sent one of the cards back home to Oklahoma.

His card may not arrive in time as post from the northern Iraqi town takes around three weeks to reach the United States. Mail from loved ones, back home at bases in Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Carson, Colorado, has poured in for several days in the run up to the holidays.

Hussein's capture was "an early Christmas gift," said General Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division.

"Capturing him ... will help us to continue to eliminate the insurgency but also to go back to the business of rebuilding Iraq and moving forward and turning the country back to the Iraqi people," Odierno said.

Asked who received the best Christmas present, Sergeant Gilbert Nail from Fort Hood, Texas, said, chuckling: "Of course, Saddam. He received free food and boarding for the rest of his lif to make one last effort and try to attack," she said.

(Reuters, AP)