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Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 2003/ 21 Kislev 5763

Richard Z. Chesnoff

Richard Z. Chesnoff
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A changed ball game |
The long-awaited capture of Saddam Hussein - dusty and disoriented, bearded and bedraggled - will have profound effects in Iraq and the Middle East. Not all of them will be positive.

For the vast majority of Iraqis, it's time to celebrate the ultimate defeat of the haughty tyrant who once controlled their lives - and often brutally took them - the man who left their once-thriving economy in shambles. But even as thousands of joyful Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and Basra to fire guns in the air and distribute sweets in celebration, U.S. officials warned that Saddam's seizure will not end terrorist attacks. Not against coalition troops nor against Iraqi civilians.

No doubt, the capture of Saddam will help deflate some of the heavily armed gangs of Saddam loyalists who American officials believe are partially responsible for the deaths of 198 American troops since the major fighting in Iraq was declared over in May. The capture may also relieve the anxieties of ordinary Iraqis who have shied away from cooperating with U.S. forces or the new Iraqi transitional government for fear Saddam and his goons would somehow return.

But in the short term, at least, some desperate Saddam loyalists may increase their terror war in retaliation for the humiliation of seeing their master cornered like a desert rat. No one should forget the mistaken prediction last July that the killing of Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay, would diminish terrorist attacks against U.S. troops and foreign organizations. Instead, they increased.

It is also clear that Saddam loyalists are only a part of the corps of terrorist killers currently ravaging Iraq. Large areas of that oil-rich country have begun to rebuild and now enjoy relative peace and stability, far more than most media reports would indicate. But other areas - especially the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad - remain prey to the shadowy army of Iraqis and foreign jihad fighters whose loathing for Saddam is matched only by their hatred of America and the other coalition forces in Iraq.

To these brutal figures, the promise of Western-style democracy is of little import. Their goal remains to oust all infidel troops from Iraq and establish their own form of Islamic dictatorship, even if that means targeting many Iraqis in the process.

One key to defeating these insurgent bands will be rebuilding Iraq's crippled infrastructure and simultaneously building up the self-rule abilities of the provisional government.

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Just last week, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council announced plans to establish a special tribunal to try top members of Saddam's regime for a long litany of war crimes, ranging from the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the mass slaughter of Kurds and Shiite Muslims by the army and air force.

On Wednesday, the council spoke of trying Saddam in absentia. Now it wants to see him tried in an Iraqi court that, it swears, "will be fair and of the highest standards of justice." All President Bush said yesterday on this point was that Saddam "would face the justice he denied to millions," so we'll have to see.

Saddam's capture also has sent predictable shock waves through the region. There are those in the Arab world who will mourn the end of a man they still perceive as a hero because he stood up to the hated Americans.

But the news that the man who was once the Arab world's most powerful and feared figure was discovered cowering in a hole 6 feet under a mud hut will have its own profound psychological effect in the Mideast's markets and mosques.

Equally telling is the fact that the once-swaggering Saddam surrendered without a fight. Such capitulation sends a potent message in the macho-minded Middle East.

In the bad old days, Saddam often compared himself to the biblical King Nebuchadnezzar. I remember seeing giant billboards near the ancient city of Babylon in 1998 with the two profiles side by side. Obviously, Saddam overlooked what the Bible recounts: Nebuchadnezzar built an empire but then went mad and ate grass.

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JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )

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