A new beginning

December 16, 2003|By Marco Vicenzino

WASHINGTON - The capture of Saddam Hussein clearly represents the most defining moment in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad in April. It marks a new beginning for the Iraqi people and the Bush administration, greater cooperation in the international community and the Middle East, and the emergence of the rule of law in the region.

Mr. Hussein's capture is unlikely to change the security situation drastically in the immediate future; the deadly bombing outside an Iraqi police station Sunday was a tragic reminder of that. Improved security clearly remains the single most important concern in Iraq.

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority's immediate priority is to interrogate Mr. Hussein and extract vital information about the insurgency: identifying its leadership, infrastructure, sources of support and hideouts. It's unclear whether Mr. Hussein was merely providing inspiration to the insurgents or actively leading it.

Iraq's political transition depends upon an improved security environment, which can only be guaranteed by accurate and reliable intelligence - the CPA's biggest obstacle in its struggle against the insurgents.

The tide of battle is likely to change in the long term, with better intelligence, higher coalition morale, a demoralized and leaderless insurgency and, ultimately, a less fearful and more energized Iraqi population.

Iraqis are now more likely to cooperate with the CPA and participate in the reconstruction of their country. Success in Iraq ultimately depends upon this. But reality suggests that the window of opportunity is limited and the new sense of hope may be short-lived if Iraqis do not see a greater improvement in daily life.

In addition, there must be greater outreach and inclusion of the Sunni community, which ran Iraq during Mr. Hussein's reign and is now mostly leaderless and provides the greatest support for the insurgency. Fostering a new, grass-roots Sunni leadership is essential. The Sunnis must feel that they are being legitimately represented and directly involved in the building of a new Iraq.

Since the summer, there has been an erosion in U.S. credibility, particularly among ordinary Iraqis. Mr. Hussein's capture creates a new dynamic and allows the Bush administration to seize the political initiative again.

Domestically, the political gains for President Bush are overwhelmingly clear. Until now, the status of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as the Democratic frontrunner as Mr. Bush's opponent in 2004 has been due largely to his position on Iraq. Mr. Hussein's capture may deprive Dr. Dean of his comparative advantage and narrow the gap with his Democratic opponents for the party's presidential nomination.

Internationally, Mr. Hussein's capture may foster greater cooperation in the U.N. Security Council, primarily between the United States and France, energize discussions for an official and significant NATO presence in Iraq next year and establish a more positive negotiating environment in the next round of European Union discussions on the European constitution. Differences over Iraq were partly responsible for the negative atmosphere at the failed EU summit in Brussels.

For those in the Middle East who desire reform and an end to repressive autocratic rule, Mr. Hussein's fall provides hope. Pictures of the tired and disheveled captive shattered the myth of Mr. Hussein's invincibility. Although Arabs are delighted to witness Mr. Hussein's end, many are humiliated that one of their own was captured so easily like a "rat in a hole" by U.S. forces. A courageous death in battle, like those of his sons, would have been preferable for Arab pride.

Mr. Hussein's capture may also re-energize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, just as the fall of Baghdad served as the catalyst for President Bush's "road map" plan for an agreement, although this appears to have reached a dead end.

How, where and when Mr. Hussein is tried will have implications for the future of Iraq and the Middle East. There are several options.

For supporters of the newly created International Criminal Court, a trial of Mr. Hussein in The Hague would be ideal. He represents the quintessential international war criminal. There is overwhelming evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the wars against Iran and Kuwait, the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988 and the nearly 300,000 who were slaughtered throughout his decades in power. But a trial in The Hague is unlikely because of U.S. opposition to the ICC.

Another option is a Nuremberg-style trial - an international tribunal on Iraqi soil. This could be authorized by the Security Council, which created similar ad hoc courts for the massacres in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, although they exist outside the areas of conflict. Such a tribunal would be composed of internationally respected judges from all parts of the world, including the Middle East.

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