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Many Arabs Skeptical on Saddam’s Capture

December 14, 2003

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ For many Arabs, the scene on their television screens was inconceivable: one of the Middle East’s once mightiest rulers humiliated, dirtied _ and in the hands of American soldiers. It was a joy to behold for some, and a shock to those who lionized Saddam Hussein.

``Impossible! No, I don’t believe it,″ Rami Makhoul, who works at a jewelry store in the Syrian capital Damascus, exclaimed when the news broke Sunday. At an outdoor market in Cairo, shopkeepers could be heard yelling at each other, ``They say he’s been captured, do you believe that?″

Then when the images were aired showing Saddam in custody _ blinking dully, his hair tangled and beard long and unkempt, as a U.S. military doctor examines him _ the real shock came.

``I love him so much, I can’t stand watching it,″ said Raafat Logman, 23, a Palestinian avoiding the television playing in the corner of a Gaza City pool hall.

``I didn’t expect to see him this humiliated ... shaken and quiet,″ said Mona al-Mutairi, a child therapist in Kuwait, the Gulf nation Saddam invaded and occupied in 1990. ``He looked like a cave man.″

Few Arab governments reacted immediately, perhaps waiting to judge the mood of an Arab public that was fonder of Saddam than were the fellow Arab leaders who had to deal with him for decades. Many Mideast leaders may also be worried if Saddam goes on public trial for war crimes _ giving him a forum to air years of dirty laundry.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa referred to the arrest as a ``great event.″

``The former regime has fallen and it was only a matter of time before Saddam was captured,″ Moussa said.

In Washington, Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan said: ``The capture of Saddam Hussein will end an infamous chapter of history for Iraq and the region.″

Some Arab TV stations did not carry the announcement of Saddam’s arrest by the American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. But the major ones _ including the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya in Dubai, all-news stations that reach around the Arab world _ showed Bremer, the footage of Saddam and scenes of Iraqis celebrating in Baghdad.

Still, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Washington, Hafez al-Mirazi, asked what right the Americans have to show Saddam as a prisoner of war on TV when the United States objected to showing American POWs on TV during the war.

Syrian state-run TV aired detailed footage showing Saddam’s arrest and programs on the wars he waged against Iran and Kuwait and the suffering of Iraqis under his regime. Syrian Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan said his country hoped that Iraq’s unity would be preserved and that Iraqis would be able to choose their government, according to the official SANA news agency.

As the news set in, many in the Arab world expressed joy that Saddam would never return to rule Iraq. Others _ even some who hated him _ were disappointed he was captured by Americans or that he did not fight back.

``There can never be a happier day than today,″ civil servant Abdullah al-Shimmiri said in Kuwait.

``We wish they would put (Saddam) in a cage and take him on a trip around the world. God humiliated him in that hole they found him in, the same way he humiliated others,″ said al-Shimmiri, who added that his brother went missing during the Iraqi occupation and has never been found.

In Palestinian areas, where Saddam was revered as a hero for having fired missiles on Israel during the first Gulf War, feelings were mixed.

``Saddam is a dictator and the Iraqi people suffered under him, but on the other hand, it was the (American) occupation that caught him,″ Mohammed Horani, a legislator with the Palestinian Parliament, said in the Gaza Strip.

In Yemen, where Saddam enjoys some support, authorities tightened security around embassies, major hotels and oil companies for fear of attacks.

``I expected him to resist or commit suicide before falling into American hands,″ Mohammed Abdel Qader Mohammadi, 50, a teacher in the Yemeni capital, San’a, said. ``He disappointed a lot of us, he’s a coward.″

TV footage of celebrating Baghdad residents raised hope among some Arabs for a new Iraq.

``I think this will bring security for the Iraqi people and hopefully they will set up real government rather than a de facto one,″ said Saudi lawyer Abdulrahman Mohammed. ``Saddam’s capture is also good for Iraq’s immediate neighbors and Saudi Arabia is one of them.″

Rasheed al-Osaimi, a 22-year-old Saudi student, said the Iraqi leader should be tried and executed. ``Saddam should not be spared, he should get the death penalty, which is the least he deserves,″ he said.

Makhoul, the jewelry store employee in Damascus, said he had mixed feelings.

``This is a great day for the Iraqi people and I share their happiness,″ he said. ``Saddam is a dictator and this should be the fate of all dictators.″

Makhoul, however, said he was sad that Saddam should meet his fate at the hands of the Americans, whom he said ``cared nothing about the Iraqi people.″

Samer Saado, an employee at a Damascus flower shop, said he didn’t care about Saddam but felt overwhelming sadness for Iraq and the entire Arab world.

``What the Americans are doing in Iraq and everywhere else is humiliating. There’s nothing to say we’re not next in line,″ he said.

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