- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — During his 23-year rule, Saddam Hussein always had his picture on front pages of Iraqi newspapers, along with praises of “His Excellency Mr. President, the leader.”

He was on the front pages again yesterday — this time in photographs depicting a disoriented, bearded Saddam in U.S. custody.

“People filled with happiness at the capture of their tyrant and executioner,” blared a red headline in the weekly independent KululIraq, a paper founded after Saddam’s fall in April.

Pentagon-funded TV station Al-Iraqiya, run by the Iraqi Media Network, had continuous programs about Saddam’s dictatorship, as well as nationwide images of celebrations of his capture.

“The tyrant fell in the trap, and eventually the dictator who filled Iraq with blood, tears and mass graves was captured,” the editorial of the daily Azzaman said.

But for many Arabs, Saddam’s meek surrender to U.S. forces marked the humiliation of a man who portrayed himself as a champion of Arab rights and the reincarnation of the 12th-century Muslim warrior Saladin.

Repeated broadcasts of Saddam submitting to medical exams at the hands of U.S. soldiers were watched with disbelief, shame and disgust.

Even those who predicted his downfall did not imagine it would be that way — plucked by U.S. soldiers like a rat from a hole.

“No Arab and no Muslim will ever forget these images. They touched something very, very deep,” veteran Moroccan journalist Khalid Jamai, a leading independent commentator, told Reuters news agency.

“It was disgraceful to publish those pictures. It goes against human dignity, to present him like a gorilla that has come out of the forest, with someone checking his head for lice.”

The deposed Iraqi leader’s Arab supporters and enemies alike watched over and over again U.S. film of his surrender without firing a shot to defend himself.

“I was expecting a more honorable end for him, like shooting himself,” said Lebanese student Salam Berri. “But he was just a typical Arab leader. [They] stay in power forever and then give their countries and themselves up to their worst enemy.”

Arab newspapers splashed Saddam’s photos in U.S. custody, looking broken and haggard in contrast to old pictures of the arrogant then-Iraqi president in smart suits and in palaces.

Many Iraqis, the main victims of Saddam’s brutality over three decades, were ecstatic to see the man who ruled them by fear now broken, humbled and in custody.

“I hope that we get the chance to try him our way, to let everyone who suffered make him taste what he had made us taste,” said Ali Hussein, 29, a stationery shopkeeper.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a strategic U.S. ally, greeted the capture with quiet relief. There was no jubilation in Saudi streets, and the kingdom’s rulers marked a final chapter in the Iraqi leader’s demise without comment.

In contrast in Kuwait, occupied by Saddam for seven months in 1990, it was the “mother of all good news” — a reference to Saddam’s term for the 1991 Gulf war, the “mother of all battles.”

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