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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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Sunday, December 14

Saddam's arrest cause for joy, continued caution

By Greg Barrett | GNS

WASHINGTON - For Baghdad residents and Iraqi expatriates, the image of a haggard, defeated Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody has for the moment transposed the long shadows of Iraq's occupation and the violent resistance it provoked.

``There is your weapon of mass destruction!'' Baghdad native Hyder Haddad said after watching TV news from his home in Dearborn, Mich. ``Look! It's the face of the devil.''

The Iraqi dictator who ruled with an iron fist for a quarter of a century offered no resistance when U.S. forces found him Saturday in a hole in the ground on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit. His face was drawn. His hair and beard were overgrown and knotted.

Haddad, a translator who returned from Baghdad three days ago, was staggered by the good news. He said Saddam's capture will go a long way toward quelling the insurgence that has targeted coalition forces, relief agencies, the United Nations and expatriates like him who returned to Iraq to aid in its reconstruction.

``Yesterday I did not have a lot of hope for Iraq,'' Haddad said. ``There was too much danger, and still there is. But now the symbol of hate is gone. The evil leader is gone. Everything that has happened in Iraq up until now - the good, the bad, the ugly - is all worth it for this moment.''Others sounded a more cautious note.

In a brief televised address Sunday, President Bush declared an end to ``a dark and painful era'' for Iraqis but also warned against false hope.

``The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East,'' he said. ``Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated.''

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the day ``momentous'' for Iraqi people and said they ``have now been liberated in spirit, as well as in fact.''

For Dr. Nabil Al-Azzawi, an Iraqi surgeon and former chief of Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, the merriment fanned by Baghdad TV was tempered by daily realities.

``There will not be a dramatic change immediately, but it will quiet the conditions," Al-Azzawi said of Saddam's capture. ``Hopefully someday soon the coalition forces will be able to focus less on security and more on the rebuilding.''

Jubilant Iraqis fired guns into the air in the streets of Baghdad on Sunday. But the 1,000-bed Yarmouk Hospital has limited hospital supplies and staff, and still suffers occasional electrical outages, Al-Azzawi said in a telephone interview. And there have been bombings and shootings almost every day in Baghdad since Saddam fled last spring.

In this country, the terror alert level remained at yellow, or elevated, Sunday but Saddam's capture is not expected to end terrorism or attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

``The people who have been doing these attacks have been doing them because they think it's the right thing to do,'' said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a security policy center in Alexandria, Va. ``I wouldn't necessarily assume that getting the old man is going to necessarily shut it down.''

There is some concern that Saddam's capture by itself will lead to retaliation by guerillas in Iraq or by terrorists around the world. Saturday's arrest may, however, persuade skeptical Iraqis to cooperate more with coalition forces, Pike said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told NBC News on Sunday he would like to see Saddam tried twice - once in Iraq by the Iraqis and again at the international tribunal court at The Hague.

He said the trials would provide Iraqis and the U.S. government ample opportunity to show the world, especially critics in Europe, ``how heinous this individual was.'' The message to those who opposed the war would be that ``hopefully, you can see your way clear to help us with the rebuilding of Iraq,'' McCain said.

Critics of the occupation used the arrest to argue that Washington needs to be more inclusive in transforming Iraq. With the dictator in handcuffs, the time has come for Washington to loosen its grip and share power with the United Nations, said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential contender.

``The capture of Saddam Hussein presents a wonderful moment for the United States to say, `OK, we did the most important thing here, which is decapitating the regime completely and totally,''' Kerry said on Fox News. ``Saddam and his sons are now really gone. This is an opportunity for the world to take a stake in the outcome in Iraq. And the world has a stake in it.''

In Canton Township, Mich., Marine Lance Cpl. Steve Lyons, 20, said he had believed Saddam would not be taken alive.

``I think this is big,'' he said. ``The (Iraqi) people will feel a lot safer.''

Lyons, 20, who served 10 months in Iraq before returning home in October, said Saddam cast a long shadow over the Iraqi people. Many Iraqis had lived in fear of the leader long after he was deposed, he said.

``Most of them didn't even come out of their houses,'' he said.

That stake was evident Sunday in Dearborn, a working-class suburb of Detroit flush with Iraqi expatriates drawn to the area's auto factory jobs.

News of Saddam's capture broke at dawn. By midmorning, Dearborn's snow-covered streets were pulsing with excitement. Muslim cleric Hush'am Al-Husainy was finishing his morning prayers at the Karbalaa Islamic Center when the phone rang at 6:30 a.m. It was a friend with the good news.

``I fell back down to my knees in prayer'' of thanks, said al-Husainy, a member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most prominent Shiite organization to oppose Saddam.

Within an hour, the Karbalaa Islamic Center echoed with a joyful din and Al-Husainy struggled to speak above the clamor.

``It doesn't matter that we've had a heavy snow here,'' he said. ``People are dancing, singing. They will melt the snow by the heat of their celebration.''

The fact that Saddam was captured alive - and appeared thoroughly defeated - will cement the path of a new Iraq, Al-Husainy said. No one believes the old Baath Party regime can resuscitate itself now, he said.

``It is good that he is alive,'' Al-Husainy said. ``There were so many secrets that would have died with him. We need to know where hundreds of thousands of missing Iraqis are, we need to know where the graveyards are. We need so much information that is only in his dirty mind. The world will now know the criminal this man was.''

It is why he was so disheartened when he returned to Baghdad last month to visit his family and saw graffiti scribbled on Baghdad walls.

``Long live Saddam,'' it read.

``These supporters of Saddam will stop now because the head of the neck has been crushed,'' Al-Husainy said. ``Let them drop their guns and come out to help in the rebuilding.''

(Contributing: Jon Frandsen, Mike Madden and Sergio Bustos of GNS.)