Jubilation across the world and even Arab nations shed few tears

By Katherine Butler
Monday 15 December 2003 01:00

Western leaders, even those who opposed the US war against Saddam's Iraq, hailed news of the capture of the tyrant as a turning point, and acknowledged the achievement of the forces who caught him without firing a shot.

Few tears were shed in the Arab world, a reflection of how devoid of allies the deposed Iraqi leader was at the end. Some Arab leaders warned the US, however, that Saddam should face justice in his own country.

Jacques Chirac, the most strident leader of the European anti-war camp said the arrest was an event which "should strongly contribute to the democratisation and the stabilisation of Iraq".

The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, greeted the development "with much happiness". In a telegram to George Bush, he called for intensified efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Spain and Italy, both of which sent troops and backed the war, were jubilant. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, said: "The time has come for [Saddam] to pay for his crimes."

The Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, phoned Mr Bush to congratulate him.

In Poland, which commands thousands of international troops in Iraq, the Defence Minister Jersey Szmajdzinski welcomed the news, but said the arrest could prompt retaliation from Saddam's supporters. "The coming days could be equally dangerous as these past days," he said.

The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose decision to send troops to Iraq is deeply unpopular with his own people, predicted that the capture would improve security in Iraq.

Reaction was more mixed in the Arab world. There was jubilation in Kuwait, whose invasion by Iraq led to the 1991 Gulf war. The Kuwaiti information minister, Mohammed Abulhassan "thanked God" that Saddam had been captured alive "so that he can be tried for the heinous crimes he has committed".

Iran, Iraq's arch enemy, joined in the call for justice. The Vice-President, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said: "Iranians have suffered a lot because of him and mass graves in Iraq prove the crimes he has committed against the Iraqi people."

Amr Moussa, the Arab League's secretary general, said merely that it was "an important event," stressing that the Iraqi people should decide his fate.

A Jordanian government statement fell short of welcoming the capture. It expressed hope nevertheless that it would contribute to the dawning of a new era in Iraq.

In Arab East Jerusalem, where Saddam was regarded as a hero because he bankrolled the families of Palestinian "martyrs", reactions were mixed. For some, Saddam was an Arab hero, for others he was a traitor who had betrayed the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian Authority spokesmen were reluctant to comment. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, telephoned the White House. "Today is a great day for the democratic world," he said.

Shares on the Tel Aviv stock exchange rose by more than 3 per cent.

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