- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

BAGHDAD — The image of a scruffy and bewildered Saddam Hussein soon after he was pulled from a hole in the ground had Iraqis shaking their heads in the streets of Baghdad yesterday.

“He must have been an agent for the Americans all along,” said Walid al Jubari, 45, who could find no other explanation for Saddam’s reported cooperation with his captors.

“Why didn’t Saddam Hussein fire off a single shot from his gun? The Americans just prepared the new war-crimes court to try him in last week. and then, surprise, they drag him out of his hole in the ground this week. This is just too much of a coincidence for me.”

While some Iraqis came up with other bizarre conspiracy theories, most were simply astonished that the feared leader who once vowed to fight America to the bitter end had surrendered without firing a shot.

Many claimed yesterday always to have seen cowardice in the dictator’s eyes. Others expressed deep disappointment that he hadn’t taken his own life or been killed by U.S. forces.

“I can’t say if I’m happy or sad because I think it all would have ended much better if he had simply killed himself,” said Mohammed Shemeri as a band of young men fired Kalashnikov rounds nearby. “I guess I’m just shocked that this man is really such a coward.”

A man who once spent five years in jail for making a joke about Saddam expressed delight that the dictator had been forced to burrow into a hole and cringe from his captors.

“He sent so many others to their grave, so there was some poetic justice in the notion that he had to dig his own hole in the ground,” Hafel Abu Hale said.

“He once distributed a videotape of the former minister being eaten alive by dogs just to frighten the entire nation,” added the neatly dressed satellite-phone salesman.

“Now, we are the witnesses to the spectacle of this terrified old man surrendering like a lamb to U.S. forces. This day couldn’t be sweeter for us. This is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

As the news broke in the streets of Baghdad, an Iraqi police lieutenant rushed into the dark, unheated offices of a senior Iraqi police captain. “What shall we do sir?” he asked. “They’ve finally captured Saddam — or at least that is what the Iranian news agency says.”

“Yeah. And the Queen of England just had a baby,” quipped the captain, who said he’d heard similar “false rumors” at least four times in the past year. To be on the safe side, however, the office mobilized the entire police precinct in case of violence in the streets.

The reaction was generally restrained however. Guns were fired into the air in isolated areas early in the day, and one man stripped down to his underwear and danced along the banks of the Tigris River screaming gibberish. But by 10 p.m., only a few wild-eyed men with machine guns still were celebrating.

“I think I kind of thought this would end sooner or later, but I’m really ashamed that Saddam allowed himself to be captured in such a manner,” said Haji Mohammed, a soda-shop vendor, who added that a suicide would have been far more appropriate.

Many said they wanted to see Saddam face trial for his crimes — and be executed soon afterward.

But there was widespread skepticism that Saddam’s capture would end the nation’s economic woes. Several men standing in five-hour gas lines complained that things were only getting worse.

“One nightmare named Saddam is over, and now all we have to do is get rid of the other — the American occupation,” said Athir Kassem, a bearded taxi driver.

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