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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Sunday, December 14

Saddam's capture could be catalyst U.S. needed

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush, seeking to ensure that one of the most dramatic moments of the war in Iraq is also a strategic turning point, promised Iraqis Sunday that the capture of Saddam Hussein was proof that freedom had taken permanent root in their still bloodied nation.

''Now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions,'' Bush said in a brief midday speech from the White House. Members of Congress were equally elated by news that Saddam had been found in a crudely hidden pit on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit.

However, congressional critics and supporters alike warned Bush he must seize the development as a new opportunity to improve security in Iraq, unify the Iraqi people and attract the military involvement of key U.S. allies.

``It is not a foregone conclusion that Shiites, the Sunnis, Arab tribes, Kurds are in fact going to come together, although they have a much better chance'' because of Saddam's capture, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said on NBC's ``Meet the Press.'' ``This is really a signal moment, and we ought to celebrate it. But we ought to take advantage of the momentum in our foreign policy to visit with every other country in the world'' to develop support, Lugar said.

Numerous lawmakers - and even Bush himself - warned that there would be more attacks by insurgents seeking to undermine the mission of handing over control of the country to Iraqi citizens and rebuilding its battered infrastructure.

``We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East,'' Bush said.

Indeed, the attacks that have bedeviled allied troops and slowed reconstruction efforts continued Sunday. There was a suicide bombing at a police station west of Baghdad that killed more than a dozen people.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said on ABC's ``This Week with George Stephanopoulos'' that insurgents would be demoralized by Saddam's capture, and there also could be an immediate galvanizing effect on them. ``There's going to be a whole group of people who want to emerge, who have been afraid to replace Saddam Hussein,'' said Hagel, a leading foreign policy expert in Congress.

Sen. Joe Biden had been urging Bush to send more troops to help stabilize Iraq, but the Delaware Democrat said on NBC that the good news might make that unnecessary. ``I think this may in fact speed up the process whereby we really internationalize this ... and not have any need to bring in more American troops,'' he said.

The capture also may give new impetus to a mission by former Secretary of State James Baker, who leaves Monday at Bush's request to ask European countries to forgive Saddam-era debts owed to them.

``It gives us momentum for Jim Baker to visit these countries and say, `Listen, if Iraq is going to be a whole government, we have got to forgive the debt,' '' Lugar said on NBC. But how ready Europe will be to either forgive debt or join American troops on the ground is still an open question.

The relationship between the United States and many European allies appeared to be on the mend recently after being seriously strained by the United States' decision to invade Iraq in March without the backing of the United Nations.

But the administration may have thrown cold water on those warmer feelings by announcing last week that only those countries that are willing to put troops into Iraq will be allowed to bid on the billions of dollars of reconstruction contracts that will be awarded in coming months and years.

``I didn't think that was very smart,'' Hagel said on ABC. ``We have an effort going on one side to bring in people and, yet on another side, we're pushing them away.''

Saddam's capture also raised the possibility that some other controversies that broke out because of the war could be eased or at least explained. Critics of the war have faulted U.S. and British intelligence that claimed significant stashes of chemical and biological weapons - which have yet to be found.

And there has been harsh criticism of Bush's claims that Saddam had ties to terrorists. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he had been told that Saddam was already being interrogated and ``he is being somewhat cooperative.'' Roberts said he would be interested in hearing what Saddam says about Iraq's weapons programs and the links between the Iraqi government and terrorist networks.

Roberts, who has been critical of the intelligence community since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war, said Saddam's capture should be treated as a huge intelligence success.

``I'd like to the give the intelligence community some real kudos here,'' Roberts said. ``We've taken a lot of brickbats in the intelligence community. For once we had a comprehensive, analytical product ... and we found the spider in the hole.''