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Commentary: Return power to Iraqis
( 2003-12-16 00:05) (China Daily)

With former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein captured late on Saturday night, it is time for the United States to help build democracy in Iraq.

All of the obstacles appear to have been removed. However, the future of the Middle East country remains uncertain.

The images of Saddam's tired face framed in a tangle of unkempt hair and beard, and of Iraqis dancing in the streets came amid an increasingly dismal backdrop for the US-led occupation, which has strayed far from the Bush administration's expectations of a quick, easy transition to Iraqi self-government.

It gives the US occupation authority an opportunity to send a clear message that the 66-year-old longtime former Iraqi leader will never regain power.

In this sense, the capture of Saddam provides a badly-needed boon for US President George W. Bush, after seven months of increasingly bloody attacks on US forces and their allies following Saddam's ousting in April.

For now the capture is likely to yield continuing headlines that appeared to give a big boost to Bush's re-election campaign.

Bush could boast the prize as a major victory to dispel scepticism of his Iraqi strategy and silence criticism on his foreign policy, especially from the Democrats.

The capture of Saddam would also strengthen Bush's hands in leading with other countries, especially those who have adamantly opposed the US-led war against Iraq.

Yet, what the arrest surely will do now is to relieve Iraqis of the lingering fear that somehow Saddam might return to power.

Whether the capture would reduce or bring an end to the deadly organized attacks on US troops and allies in Iraq over the short term is still something far from certain.

What matters the most to the post-invasion stage is the US-led occupation, but not the fate of Saddam, which was merely a symbolic achievement.

According to Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) member Samir Sumaidaie, catching or killing Saddam will not make much difference in cracking down on the ever-escalating resistance attacks.

At the press conference on Sunday, US commander of ground forces in Iraq Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez said his forces "do not expect a complete elimination'' of the resistance violence.

Moreover, experts said opposition to the US-led military occupation of Iraq was made up of far more than the supporters of Saddam Hussein, noting that Iraqis historically distrusted occupation.

A classified Central Intelligence Agency report admitted last month that Iraqis are increasingly losing confidence in the US occupation authority and its hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council and willing to offer more support to the resistance.

A car bomb killed at least 17 and injured 33 in a town west of Baghdad Sunday morning. It was reported that no US soldiers were in the area at the time of the blast.

Saddam's Baathist loyalists are only part of the security challenge facing the allied troops because the insurgency also involves foreign infiltrators and even terrorists.

The attacks by both the Baathists and foreign infiltrators may well linger on despite Saddam's capture, because, as US media quoted those captured by the US forces as saying, they are fighting not for Saddam, but for ending US occupation.

The capture of Saddam Hussein has reinforced the ambiguity that many people in the Arab world feel about the US-led war and occupation of Iraq.

While the Arab public harbours no particular love for the deposed former leader, it despairs that an outside power can humiliate the Arab world by capturing such a significant figure with relative impunity.

Saddam's final downfall is hardly the end of the story and may ultimately have little real impact.

The challenges of reconstructing Iraq remain: creating jobs, restoring electricity, repairing the oil industry, and, most importantly, settling the rivalries and disputes between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, -- in short, building a new political order.

Removing the final traces of Saddam -- and the lingering fear that his old order might return -- was the prerequisite to dealing with all these basic problems, but it in no way ensures a solution.

While Saddam's capture will help the United States and the administration in a number of fronts in short term, its long-term ramifications on Iraq and on US domestic politics and foreign policy should be examined in perspective.

Still, the Bush administration owes an explanation to the world community why it went to war with Iraq in the first place when no weapons of mass destruction have been found nearly nine months later.

The capture of Saddam, could also pose a legal challenge for the United States which has to decide how to put the former Iraqi leader on trial and convince the world that the process is impartial.

The capture is a watershed that should prompt Washington to speed turnover of power to the Iraqi people and end the violence-plagued occupation of that country.

From the very beginning of its unauthorized war against Iraq, the United States insisted it was sending an army of "liberation'' and not an occupying force.

The best way to demonstrate its sincerity would be to hand the administration of Iraq to the Iraqis and to begin to remove US forces.

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