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Iraq Journals

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Sunday, December 14

Analysis: Captured Saddam opens new chapters in foreign, domestic debates

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - The pictures of a dirty, dazed and disheveled Saddam Hussein, pulled literally from a hole in the ground, could not have been starker or more powerful images for the Bush administration, for doubters among the Iraqi people and for reluctant bystanders in the international community.

But the picture gets a bit fuzzier as George W. Bush's foreign policy and presidential politics are recalibrated in a newly affirmed post-Saddam era.

Saddam's capture could open a new moment of international cooperation on Iraq's reconstruction, especially on issues like debt relief or aid. Or it could cause further hunkering down between the United States and its allies against those who were unwilling to support the war last spring. Most notably in the latter camp are France, Germany and Russia, whose leaders praised Saddam's capture by U.S. forces near Tikrit. But all three countries might be shut out of the business of reconstructing Iraq if a recently announced U.S. policy persists.

Democratic presidential candidates had intensified their criticism of Bush amid increased violence from terrorists and Saddam loyalists. But those criticisms are at least temporarily muted by the reality of Saddam's capture.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told Fox TV on Sunday that he hoped ``the Democratic candidates, the people who are running (for president), will take a step back, put the partisanship aside, put the politics aside and recognize that this is a remarkable and enchanting day for the people of the world, the Iraqi people and the American people.''

The toughest Democratic Iraq rhetoric on Sunday was not leveled against Bush, but by one Democrat against another.

The most hawkish Democrat presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, used Saddam's capture to attack front-runner Howard Dean, who has emerged as a contender in large part from his opposition to the war.

``If Howard Dean had his way,'' Lieberman said, ``Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place.''

Dean, the former governor of Vermont, was more muted, arguing that the capture was a ``great day'' for the Iraqi people and a new opportunity to ``bring the (United Nations), NATO and other members of the international community back into this effort.''

Perhaps the toughest critic of Bush was Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who said the capture could have come much earlier had Bush gotten more international cooperation before invading the country. But Kerry typifies the bind many of Bush's critics find themselves in. The senator had supported a resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq and has struggled to explain his opposition since then to Bush's postwar policies.

Perhaps most important, even the most optimistic image-makers in the Bush White House could not have envisioned the sight of Saddam in captivity. For Bush, it came at a time of regained momentum as bullish economic news had reversed a slide in the president's job-approval numbers at home.

Saddam, a long-feared dictator who ruled from gilded palaces, was caught by U.S. troops near his hometown of Tikrit, hiding under Styrofoam and dirt in a space barely larger than a closet. The American commander in Iraq called the captive a ``tired man ... a man resigned to his fate.'' The general in charge of the mission compared Saddam to a rat caught in a hole.

And almost immediately, the images of a wild-haired, bearded Saddam being examined by an American doctor were offered up as a symbol to Iraq's people.

``You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again,'' Bush told the Iraqi people in a short Oval Office address.

But in the hours after Saddam's capture was dramatically beamed around the world, celebration and violence spawned in Iraq.

The dual acts were reminders, as Bush said in a tightly worded address, that the war on terror is being fought ``capture by capture, cell by cell.''