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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Analysis: Turning point for Iraq?

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The capture of Saddam Hussein is being presented by the coalition as a turning point for Iraq leading to reconciliation and political stability.

US-issued playing card showing Saddam Hussein
Saddam's capture is the moment coalition forces had been working for
The hope is that after months of armed resistance, the political will of the violent opposition can be broken, followed by its military defeat. It remains to be seen if this is too optimistic.

Part of the approach will be to put Saddam Hussein on trial in front of an Iraqi court so that justice can be seen to be done by Iraqis. A tribunal for former Baathists was announced by the Iraqi Governing Council only last week.

The unspoken hope, too, is that reconciliation within Iraq can lead to a diplomatic detente in the wider world, thereby improving both the international and domestic positions of US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Themes from Bremer

The themes were evident in the statement from the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer.

After, for him, an uncharacteristic moment of triumphalism in which he melodramatically declared "We got him!", he made a much more thoughtful attempt to capitalise on the moment.

"With the arrest of Saddam Hussein, there is a new opportunity for the members of the former regime to end their bitter opposition," he told Iraqis.

"Let them now come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and hope, lay down their arms, and join you, their fellow citizens, in the task of building the new Iraq."

Unsmiling George Bush

President Bush had no smile on his face when he made his comments, whatever he might have been feeling inside.

Instead, his talk, too, was about a new stage: "All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq," he said.

Measured Blair

The same point was made in his statement by Tony Blair, who had just spoken to President Bush.

"The shadow of Saddam has finally lifted from the Iraqi people," he said. "We give thanks for that, but let this be more than a case simply for rejoicing. Let it be a moment to reach out and reconcile."

And speaking in deliberately measured tones, Mr Blair also sent a message to Muslims

Let it be a moment to reach out and reconcile
Tony Blair
"The rebirth of Iraq is the death of the attempt to sell the lie that we are fighting Muslims. Muslims were Saddam's victims," he said.

Next stages

A great deal now depends on how the next stages are handled.

  • The resistance forces will be bombarded with propaganda about how futile their fight is. No doubt they will continue to be bombarded with weapons as well.

  • The policy towards Saddam Hussein will be to emphasise that his fate is in the hands of his fellow citizens who have suffered at his hands.

    The intention is that he will be put on trial. That trial will have to be fair.

  • There will be a renewed impetus to ensure that the timetable for a handover to an interim Iraqi government by the end of June next year is kept to.

  • There is also a diplomatic push on to get the United Nations involved again, and through the UN, those countries opposed to the war and the occupation. The British representative to the Coalition Authority, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, will be seeing the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan this week to discuss a possible new Security Council resolution in the spring.

Suddenly, things are looking brighter for the coalition and its supporters in Iraq.

But everyone remembers the euphoria at the end of the war itself.

The tone this time is more cautious. They dare not show their real feelings of satisfaction.

Cult of personality

In assessing the impact of his capture, it is important to remember the domination of Iraq by this one man over 25 years.

The force of his presence and the brutality of his rule ensured that normal politics vanished while a cult of personality developed and war was waged against his own citizens and against his country's neighbours.

He embarked on a weapons programme which saw him develop chemical and biological agents and which, if left unchecked, would have seen him in possession of a nuclear bomb.

Saddam Hussein (centre) pictured with Uday (left) and Qusay
Saddam's sons were vulnerable to being given away
Even though the American-led invasion removed him from command, it did not wholly remove him from influence. His spirit hung over the Iraqi people like a ghost in a Shakespeare play.

His capture was probably only a matter of time. That became clear when his two sons Uday and Qusay were killed in the northern town of Mosul in July.

The only surprising thing is that he has been captured and not killed.

He was found in a hole in a house far away from the centres of power.

He was bearded and dishevelled. He did not fight back. He has been humiliated.




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