- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

The Republican National Committee yesterday assailed Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean for saying Iraq’s standard of living was better when Saddam Hussein was in power.

“It’s baffling that anyone could possibly think life under a brutal dictator who routinely tortured, raped and imprisoned his own people is better than the freedom and democracy taking root in Iraq today,” said RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Mr. Dean made the assertion while addressing a rally in New Hampshire on Sunday.

“You can say that it’s great that Saddam is gone, and I’m sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone,” the former Vermont governor said. “But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before.”

The statement has reignited GOP criticism of Mr. Dean, who built his candidacy on opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom and said last month that “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.” That statement seemed to contribute to his loss in the Iowa caucuses, which he compounded by delivering a red-faced rant that has been ridiculed widely.

Republicans were beginning to discount Mr. Dean as a contender for the Democratic nomination. But recent polls suggest his candidacy is not over yet, prompting President Bush’s backers to renew their attacks on him and their defense of the Iraq war.

“Let me just say that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime from power was the right decision,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday as the president flew to Arkansas.

“Saddam Hussein was a dangerous and gathering threat, and the president made the right decision to remove him from power,” he added. “The world is a safer and better place, and America is more secure because of the actions that we took.”

Mr. Gillespie said Mr. Dean’s comments raise questions about his judgment.

“Howard Dean’s aggressive opposition to the war in Iraq has blinded him to the fact that freedom from fear and torture are quality-of-life issues essential to freedom-loving people in Iraq and around the world,” he said.

Mr. Bush pointed out Saddam isn’t the only culprit whose capture has made both Iraq and the United States safer.

“Just last week, we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq,” he said at a Little Rock, Ark., hospital. “Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks.

“He was a killer,” the president added. “There is one less enemy we have to worry about with the capture of Hassan Ghul.”

As for Mr. Dean’s statement that the living standard of Iraqis has worsened since Saddam’s capture, it actually might be true for some Iraqis, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“A lot of it depends on who you are and where you are,” he said. “If you’re a former Ba’ath Party official in Baghdad, your life has gotten worse in innumerable ways.

“If you’re a [Shi’ite] in the south who had been living in hiding because you feared for your life,” he added, “your life has gotten a heck of a lot better.”

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