Saddam's Capture Unites Europe, Gives Blair a Lift
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Joy over the capture of brutal dictator Saddam Hussein has briefly united Europe's leaders, even those who bitterly opposed the conflict in Iraq. This is an important development as it gives the continent a much needed mutual rallying point on the still highly divisive issue of the war. Saddam's incarceration may also help stabilize the leadership of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has lost domestic popularity over the Iraq issue.
After months of bad political news, Britain's embattled prime minister has finally got something to cheer about. The almost surreal capture of the evil Hussein in an underground pit has thrown Blair a much needed life-line. It comes just at a time when it was beginning to look as though he might have to resign due to political pressures emanating from his Iraq policy as well as other domestic issues.
As soon as the official news broke of Saddam's dramatic capture, Blair hurriedly left the prime-ministerial weekend-retreat of Chequers to travel to his official residence at 10 Downing Street. Shortly after talking to President George W. Bush on the phone, a confident but measured sounding Blair appeared before the global media.
The British leader outlined what he felt were the significant aspects arising out of Saddam's apprehension, stressing that the arrest of the former tyrant offered a fresh opportunity for reconciliation in Iraq. His measured assessment matched those given by other European leaders.
In his public address Blair said, "This is very good news for the people of Iraq. It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime. This fear is now removed. Saddam is gone from power. He won't be coming back, that the Iraqi people now know and it is they who will decide his fate." The prime minister added, "Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq."
Equally warms words from two of Europe's most powerful opponents of the war, Germany and France, also greeted the capture. Spokesperson for French President Jacques Chirac was quoted by the BBC as saying, "The president is delighted at the arrest of Saddam Hussein. This is a major event which should strongly contribute to the democratization and the stabilization of Iraq, and allow the Iraqis to once more be masters of their destiny in a sovereign Iraq." The French have long insisted that Iraqi sovereignty be restored as soon as possible and the recent accelerated timetable for the end of the US-led occupation has gone some way to satisfying this demand. The apprehension of Saddam is certainly another positive step on the road to improving relations between Paris and Washington.
Friendly praise was also forthcoming from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was another prominent opponent of the war. In a telegram to President Bush he wrote, "It is with great delight that I learned of Saddam Hussein's capture. I congratulate you on this successful operation." He concluded, "Saddam Hussein caused horrible suffering to his people and the region. I hope the capture will help the international community's effort to rebuild and stabilize Iraq."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who like Blair is a staunch supporter of President Bush's policy in Iraq, was greatly pleased by the news. "Happily, today the main obstacle to peace, freedom and democracy in Iraq has disappeared," he was quoted as saying. Since the recent murder of seven Spanish intelligence officers in Iraq, Mr Aznar has been under immense domestic pressure over his highly unpopular support for the conflict. Saddam's capture should help ease some of the criticism directed at his leadership.
For Europe's pro-Bush leaders like Blair, Aznar and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, the confinement of Saddam provides a much needed boost as well as a concrete achievement to demonstrate to their people after months of appalling attacks on coalition forces.
There can be very few people in Europe who do not feel a sense of joy over the capture of such an evil tyrant and mass murderer. However, even though the coalition now have their most wanted man in custody, the attacks on their forces are unlikely to decrease until sovereignty is handed over to the Iraqi Governing Council at the end of June 2004. Once the current bout of jubilation has faded, many of the past problems associated with Iraq will probably come back to plague Blair, Aznar, Berlusconi and company. Even so, with Saddam now securely behind bars they must be hoping that the overall situation will improve.
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