Iraqi newspapers generally reacted with joy and relief to Saddam Hussein’s capture by U.S. forces, but commentators elsewhere in the region spoke of humiliation brought upon the Arab world by the former dictator’s submission to American soliders.
Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody
The leading independent Iraqi daily, Al-Zaman, in an editorial titled “The Fall of Saddam is Complete and the Sun has Returned to Shine on Iraq,” said the captured former dictator proved to be a “coward who would not defend himself.”
The roundup of media reaction, including translations, was performed by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, which now has an office in Baghdad.
Al Zaman said, “The capture of Saddam is another window of hope for a clean Iraq, swimming in sunshine and far away from a dark past crowded by the dungeons of the secret services in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have disappeared because of a word or a whisper or an opposing view.”
Beneath the headline “Saddam is Finished and the News has Shaken the World,” MEMRI said the daily Al-Sabah described the population’s joy, reflected in the distribution of sweets, the firing of guns in the air and the ululation of women at the demise of the dictator “who has excelled in war games, mass killing, destruction, and the increase [in the number] of orphans and widows throughout this injured land, whose time has come to restore its health and bid farewell to the Republic of Fear.”
A second editorial in Al-Sabah, by Sa’ad Hadi, titled “An End Suitable for Criminals,” stated: “This is how the beast finally appeared in his true form which he has hidden for 35 years – a form of someone mentally deranged, weak, and a liar who knows nothing but the art of deceit and betrayal.”
“This is how the ‘Prince of Darkness’ was picked up from his hole without resistance,” Hadi wrote. “If there was another person in his place, he would have deserved sympathy, but a criminal like him does not deserve but a long moment of silence to remember his crimes and wickedness, and what he has left behind in pain and agony in the hearts of the Iraqis.”
‘The blessed editorial’
In a piece called “The Blessed Editorial,” Abd Al-Bassit Al-Naqqash, editor in chief of the daily Al-’Ahd Al-Jadid, writes: “The day of the despot … we have said that it was coming and have no doubt about it. And there shall be no escape for the judgment of Allah on the wicked. Justice has caught the bloodsucker, the despot who has humiliated his people and relatives!!!”
“This is the clearest and most beautiful morning in my country, Mesopotamia,” he wrote. “Be joyful, oh my brothers, be joyful oh my brothers, for this is great news for Iraq.”
In the daily Al-Nahdha, Jalal Al-Masheta writes under the title “What is After the Red Dawn?” that “the hyena, which always pretended to be a peacock, has finally fallen into the trap.”
“Saddam Hussein, who has written his name on the stones of Babylon and turned his statutes into new idols and coveted Iraq as a personal property while [forcing] some of its people across the border at one time and at other times … forcing them into mass graves or burning in the fire of wars, has fallen,” Al-Masheta said.
The daily Baghdad, associated with the National Reconciliation Movement in Iraq, writes in an editorial: “This has been one of the great scenes of the century. The written word says that Saddam Hussein has fallen into the cage of justice. The celebration was the firing of guns as well as the shedding of tears, and the unannounced cries from the mouths of thousands of victims. …”
The editorial asked: “Have you remembered, Mr. President, the moment of lighting the huge Havana cigar? One Cuban cigar you used to burn and spread its smoke and illusions over those who are with you; those who were carrying ribbons and medals of fear and deceit. It [the price of the cigar] would have been enough to feed a whole family for a month.”
“Peace, Tolerance and National Reconciliation” is the heading of an editorial in the daily Al-Ta’akhi, associated with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Jalal Talabani, which says: “The time has come to control emotions and return to tranquility, logic and contemplation. The despotic regime that has harmed the people’s present and future has been sealed.”
The paper said Saddam’s capture “will weaken the front [opposing the Governing Council] and will strengthen the Governing Council and all the supporters of the new era. It will raise the credit of the government of the American president, particularly in the presidential battle, and will also raise the credit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the rest of the allies.”
Al-Jazeera tried to ‘kill the joy’
The Iraqi daily Al-’Ahd Al-Jadid, said the Arabic-language news channel Al-Jazeera “apparently tried [Sunday] night to kill the joy of the Iraqis by televising meetings with the horn-blowers and beneficiaries of Saddam and his gang. It has also tried to incite others by reporting on the subsequent attacks by the resistance following the arrest of the head of the pyramid and forgot that Saddam was the head of a sword who surrendered quietly.”
The Iraqi daily also reported the Museum of Saddam’s Gifts will be the site of the court established to try people, such as Saddam, for crimes against humanity. The hall, formerly a repository of Saddam’s gifts, is so tall Iraqis call it “the clock tower.”
‘Defeat for Arab propaganda’
Elsewhere in the Arabic press, the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat’s headline read “He Didn’t Resist, He Has No Regrets.”
Deputy Editor Ghassan Charbal wrote: “Where is the pistol they said was his old comrade and last friend? Where is the last bullet he said he was saving for himself, so his enemies would not see him in captivity? … The story could have been different had his finger come near the trigger and had the barrel been put to his temple, and had the Americans gotten a corpse, not a prisoner.”
Chabel said the “legend is always greater than the man and becomes a story without a bullet. A corpse would not have been pardoned for his deeds, but it would at least have helped claim that he paid the price. … The master of the bullets was parsimonious on one bullet to his temple – despite his great generosity in all things regarding bullets for others. …”
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: “The night Saddam was arrested was another night of defeat for Arab propaganda that has become accustomed to spreading illusions while basing itself on ghosts, certain that none will discover the truth. …”
Al-Rashed said Saddam’s “appearance angered all those misled by the illusions, because he did not wear an explosive belt, did not rely on a submachine gun and did not swallow cyanide capsules to commit suicide.”
“All he possessed was a telephone and a bundle of dollars with which he ruled what remained of Iraq from a small pit, as he had from his luxury palace in Baghdad – with one hand ordering killing, with the other hand buying loyalty,” Al-Rashed wrote. “His end is the end of one of the false heroes that fill the pages of our history. Because we know that when one lie falls, another is born, we anticipate a new chapter of fraud.”
The editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Ibrahim Nafi’ took a different approach, however.
“The sight of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein at the time of his arrest … is painful and shocking. No Arab would wish this upon the Arab president of Iraq, one of the most important Arab countries,” he wrote.
“Many Iraqis hoped that his rule would be ended by the Iraqis, but Saddam rejected all calls to him by the Arab forces, primarily by Egypt, to prevent the danger lying in wait for Iraq and the Arabs,” said Nafi. “He entered into an ill-thought-out conflict with the international forces that seek to rule the world. … Now he must be tried in an Iraqi court, not an American court.”
Abdallah Nasser Al-Fawzan wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Watan: “In all seriousness, I feel a powerful desire to now pen a long, warm eulogy for Saddam’s two sons Uday and Qusay,” who were killed in a firefight with American soldiers earlier this year after refusing to give up, thinking “their father would not surrender to the Americans, whatever the cost, and that it would be shameful and humiliating if they did so, they resisted the Americans, to their deaths.”
“We all saw the pictures,” Al-Fawzan wrote, “Saddam was miserable, and I, as an Arab, felt humiliation. But my other feelings against Saddam were stronger. He was a paper knight.”
Columnist Suleiman Al-’Aqili wrote in Al-Watan: This is “a golden opportunity to instill realism into Arab policy and close the door on all military adventures and political slogans that tickle the feelings of the masses without taking consequences into account.”
George Hadad wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: “The theory of ‘kill the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter’ in which tyrants and villains have always believed, as have sheep thieves and wolves, is a theory that has been proven a failure by history.”
“Iraq is occupied by the international mafias, the warmongers, the oil gangs and world Zionism, and all the media and all the [channels] of distortion in the world, headed by the Arab oil-satellite channels, cannot change this fact and present invasion and aggression as liberation,” he said. “Iraq is Iraq, before Saddam Hussein and after Saddam Hussein. …”
Haddad said the “arrest of President Hussein will perhaps benefit the American president in his television appearances and media fireworks, but ultimately it will be the most important lesson that the Iraqis teach the world, and whoever survives will see it!”
In an editorial, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds said: “This event reflects the fragility of the Arab regimes, from which broad sectors of the peoples have dissociated themselves. This sight [of the arrest of] Saddam Hussein … will remain among the painful sights of history that attest to the humiliation and atrophy to which the Arab nation has sunk as a result of the disagreements, [internal] struggles and pursuit of [private] interests. …”
“The saddest and most disgraceful thing in all things concerning Saddam Hussein and his regime is that toppling the regime and arresting its head was carried out by the occupation forces,” Al-Quds said. “Had this operation been carried out by the Iraqis, it would not have caused such a flurry of emotions. Thus, every [incident] of resistance in Iraq will constitute a natural response to the desecration of Iraqi sovereignty. …”
MEMRI said while most newspapers reported the act of Saddam’s capture in detail, “conspiracy theories” are beginning to emerge.
Abd Al-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and a loyalist of Saddam Hussein, wrote the arrest “without resistance, hiding in a small and filthy hole, was most likely a theater and a finely woven hatching operation.”
In its editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh suggested a conspiracy was at work: “It can be thought that Saddam was in the hands of the Americans, and that his public exposure was a show produced with the aim of neutralizing the explosive situation, and so that it would be possible to ease the emotional and military pressure by the American forces and give new momentum to the American president just when he needs this kind of event. …”
The Saudi daily Okaz theorizes Saddam’s second wife, Samira Al-Shabandar, who lives in Lebanon under a false identity with Saddam’s only surviving son, Ali, might have been the source of information which led to Saddam’s arrest.
“It is possible,” says the paper, that “for delivering the head of her husband she will receive the award of $25 million,” offered by the U.S. for information leading to Saddam’s arrest or killing.
An interview with Al-Shabandar in the London Sunday Times on Sunday indicated Saddam had been in touch with her weekly. Okaz suspects the phone calls were monitored by the U.S. forces and led to Saddam’s arrest.
The Iraqi daily Al-Zaman quotes a Palestinian in the West Bank who was certain Saddam was anticipating the arrest because of an agreement with the Americans reached through intermediaries.
The paper interviewed someone from Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, who was certain the former dictator was “drugged” before his arrest because “he is a lion and will remain a lion.”