World Leaders Thrilled at Saddam's Capture

Published December 14, 2003

| Associated Press

World leaders expressed delight and relief Sunday at the capture of Saddam Hussein, with supporters and opponents of the Iraq war agreeing the arrest could mark a milestone in the country's journey toward peace.

The U.S. military announced that Saddam was apprehended without a struggle in a dirt pit in a farmyard near his hometown of Tikrit (search), ending one of the most intense manhunts in history.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), a staunch ally of President Bush on Iraq, said the capture would convince Iraqis that "Saddam has gone from power, he won't be coming back."

"Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace," Blair said in comments broadcast from his 10 Downing Street office.

French President Jacques Chirac (search), a firm opponent of the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam, said the former dictator's capture was "a major event that should strongly contribute to democracy and stability in Iraq," according to his spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna.

Saddam, 66, had been on the run since his regime was toppled by U.S.-led forces in April. His arrest came in an operation by U.S. soldiers on Saturday.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search), who sent troops to fight the war, said he supported the death penalty for Saddam.

"If it were imposed, absolutely," he told Australian television's Nine Network.

As news of the capture spread, celebratory gunfire rang out across Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Around the world, people watched television with astonishment, as images released by U.S. forces showed Saddam, bearded and disheveled.

"He looks so old and straggly," said Franklin Figuero, making espresso in a coffee shop in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. "It's the best thing that could have happened because that man was a dictator."

"I didn't expect to see him this humiliated ... shaken and quiet," said Mona al-Mutairi, a child therapist in Iraq's neighbor, Kuwait. "He looked like a caveman."

Across the Arab world, many expressed joy that Saddam would never return to rule Iraq. But others were disappointed that he was captured by Americans and saw his surrender as a stain on Arab honor.

"What the Americans are doing in Iraq and everywhere else is humiliating," said Samer Saado, a flower-shop employee in Damascus, Syria. "There's nothing to say we're not next in line."

Saudi Arabian student Rasheed al-Osaimi, 22, said he was happy for the Iraqi people.

"Saddam should not be spared, he should get the death penalty, which is the least he deserves," he said.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement that Saddam's capture could help stabilize Iraq.

"It offers an opportunity to give fresh impetus to the search for peace and stability in Iraq, on the basis of an inclusive and fully transparent process," Annan said. He reiterated U.N. readiness "to do everything possible to help Iraqis, if asked and as circumstances permit."

In Kuwait -- whose 1990 invasion by Iraq sparked the 1991 Gulf War -- Information Minister Mohammed Abul-Hassan said the Iraqi people and the world had been "liberated from the symbol of the regime and the fear he causes."

"This is the beginning of rebuilding Iraq, the beginning of living in security in the area," he told The Associated Press.

There was a muted response from other Arab governments. Jordan said it hoped Saddam's capture would contribute to the dawning of a new era in Iraq but stopped short of welcoming the arrest, apparently to avoid public sensitivities with a population which once saw the toppled Iraqi leader as a hero.

In Syria, which strongly opposed the war, Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan said his country hoped the unity of Iraq's land and people would be preserved and that Iraqis would be able to choose their government, the official Syrian Arab New Agency, SANA, reported.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa referred to the arrest as a "great event."

"The former regime has fallen and it was only a matter of time before Saddam was captured," Moussa said.

Supporters of the U.S.-led war were quick to hail the news.

"The time has come for (Saddam) to pay for his crimes," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has sent 2,300 soldiers to Iraq, congratulated Bush during a phone call from the president to the Italian leader on Sunday, Berlusconi's spokesman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a strong U.S. ally, said he had called Bush to congratulate him on the capture.

"Today is a great day for the democratic world and for the fight for freedom and justice and for the fight against terror," Sharon said.

Canada's new prime minister, Paul Martin, congratulated the United States and said Ottawa would continue to work with Washington to rebuild Iraq.

The United States still hasn't decided what to do with Saddam, though Blair said Saddam could be "tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people." Iraq's interim government has established a special tribunal to try Saddam and other members of his regime for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called for Saddam to face a public trial at home for crimes against humanity.

"We as Iraqis are going to call for him to stand trial in front of an Iraqi court to answer for all the crimes he has committed," Zebari told reporters in Paris.

The human rights group Amnesty International called for Saddam to be given a fair and transparent trial.

Most governments that opposed war nonetheless welcomed news of Saddam's arrest.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the capture would help improve security and spur political settlement in Iraq. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose ties to America suffered strain because of his opposition to the war, congratulated Bush on the capture and said he greeted the news "with much happiness."

"I congratulate you on this successful action," Schroeder said in a letter to Bush. "I hope that his arrest will support the efforts of the international community to rebuild and stabilize Iraq."

That hope was echoed by leaders and analysts who said the capture would persuade Saddam's remaining followers to abandon attacks on U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq.

"This is the beginning of the end for the insurgency against the U.S. forces, but it is likely to take around six months for the attacks to die down," said British defense analyst Paul Beaver.

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