Interview: What does Saddam's capture mean?

Saddam Hussein captured alive in Tikrit
It is still hard to say whether the Saddam's capture is an end of an era. But I believe this is an important turning point that will exert great influence on the future situation in Iraq.

Along with Saddam's being arrested, the Middle East situation takes a step towards stability.

The Bush Administration will not withdraw easily before it is sure and certain about the situation, maybe Bush will not withdraw before his office term ends.

Saddam's capture doesn't mean solution to the Iraqi issue, and Iraq has a long way to go before completing political transition and economic reconstruction.

The arrest of Iraqi former president Saddam Hussein made headlines on December 14. A quick view of American major websites show the prominent position of the news, followed by a string of links on backgrounds. For example, the New York Times headlined in sizeable letters right on its front page "Saddam Hussein Arrested"; the Washington Times headlined at the same place "Bremer:' We got him'" and the Los Angeles Times ran "Saddam Hussein captured alive".

Then, what on earth does Saddam's capture mean to the Iraqis? What's its impact on the Middle East situation as a whole? And on the next step of the coalition army?

At 10:30 pm, December 14, our reporter interviewed over telephone Professor Etel Solingen, an US expert on regional conflicts who had just attended an international seminar entitled "Outlook on International Orders".

How to put Saddam on trial: a knotty problem
Reporter: former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was arrested near his hometown Tikrit, 160 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. Many commentators called this an end of an era in Iraq, what's your comment?

Solingen: since the news comes suddenly I haven't had time to gather more information. It is still hard to say whether Saddam's capture calls an end to an era. After all Iraq now faces too many questions. Both its economic reconstruction, political transition and its popular sentiments pose great challenges, and neither of them can be solved quickly in a short period. But I think this is an important turning point. The vested interests in the past will be upset, including important figures of the former Iraqi regime. And those looking forward to Saddam's coming back will be discouraged. All these will exert an important influence on the direction of Iraqi's future situation.

Reports say Saddam didn't resist when US soldiers and Kurd forces assaulted him. In fact they could have possibly shot him in the attacks, in that case all would be ended. But the fact is they didn't do so but captured him alive. Then, the knotty question arises°™how should they put Saddam on trial? Will he be tried at a local Iraqi court? Or elsewhere? Is he to be tried through a democratic, transparent judicial procedure? Or by some other ways?

Reporter: although the news of Saddam's capture missed the printing time of major US newspapers, it is flooding the nation's websites. President Bush even delivered a television speech upon the matter. This shows how Americans are concerned with the event. Just now you talked about the trial on Saddam, then what opinion do you think the general Americans will hold on Saddam's trial?

Solingen: you know Americans are usually short-tempered, and expect a result before the day ends. But it needs patience to catch a heavyweight of the former Iraqi regime. We should say Americans had waited for a long time before the news of Saddam's capture arrived. After his capture, Americans naturally hope he can be tried in a just and democratic way, and he will enjoy his rights. But the questions is Iraq is now undergoing a very difficult period, will it be able to organize a just, transparent judicial procedure? We should say it's uncertain.

Reporter: does Saddam's capture mean that Iraq's opposition forces will collapse and the coalition army will withdraw soon?

Solingen: I don't think things are so optimistic. After all the Iraqi situation is so complex and many things are hard to predict. As for army withdrawal, I don't think it will be that quick. The Bush Administration will not withdraw easily before it knows for sure. Maybe Bush will not order withdrawal within his office term.

Saddam's capture: a step towards Middle East stability
Reporter: in your opinion, what does Saddam's capture mean to the Middle East region? Will the regional situation be further stabilized? And how about the relations between America and Mid East countries?

Solingen: for Mid East countries who are willing to develop friendly ties with America, Saddam's capture is doubtless a piece of good news. On the one hand, many Mid East countries, though apposing America's using forces to Iraq, wish from their bottom of heart to develop relations with America. This includes both economic and political interests, and they hope to conduct free trade with America, not much affected by war. On the other hand, after Bush announced the end of major military operations in Iraq, Saddam and his high officials were still at large; this cast a shadow on neighbors of Iraq, and they feared Saddam would come back to attack again. Now since Saddam has been arrested, they countries can put their mind at rest. So we can say Saddam's capture made a step of the Mid East situation towards stability.

Reporter: after Saddam's capture both German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac sent their personal congratulation messages to President Bush. The news seems giving Bush a huge boost. In your opinion, what influence will this exert on Bush's being re-elected?

Solingen: since I'm not an expert on American elections I'm not in the position to comment. The fact, however, is that both President Bush and general Americans heaved a sigh of relief; and both the countries once opposed to America's using forces to Iraq and American democrats lodged positive comments on US army's successful capture of Saddam, which is of obvious symbolic meanings. But my opinion is the same°™Saddam's capture doesn't mean the solution to Iraqi issue, and the nation has a long way to go before really completing its political transition and economic reconstruction.

Reporter: then what do you think its influence on Iraqi reconstruction?

Solingen: politics is always linked with economy. Political stability will create better opportunities for economic development.

Reporter: this is doubtlessly a breaking news to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who put his political career at stake even before the war was launched. After the end of the war, the coalition army suffered continuous casualties and doubts on whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction have left Blair in a sorry plight. Will the news help to tide him over?

Solingen: Blair is of course greatly encouraged and he can finally defend himself, since, to a certain extend, he is now able to justify himself before voters, and this will help him to reverse the difficult situation. Actually, I feel that Blair's decision of tying himself together with America on the Iraqi issue is because that Blair really hopes to topple the Saddam regime, rather than because of the traditional ties between Britain and America

For Europeans, two big events happened during the past 24 hours. One is that the EU summit failed to pass the EU Constitution; the other is the capture of Saddam. If the former turned out a bad news to Europeans, then the latter at least served as a consolation. Europeans also paid much cost in Iraq and by now scores of European soldiers and intelligence workers have died there. The capture of Saddam will boost the morale of the coalition army stationed in Iraq. This is, after all, a positive progress.

Backgrounder: Etel Solingen
Professor, Political Science, School of Social Sciences, PH.D., University of California, Irvine, Los Angeles. Expert on regional conflicts, having profound study on Middle East issue and South Asia cooperation. She wrote "Regional Orders at Century's Dawn: Global and Domestic Influences on Grand Strategy" (Princeton University Press, 1998), in which she devoted a chapter to the Middle East issue. Though five years have passed, the development of Mid East situation still didn't go beyond her analysis and predictions.

The article is written by our reporter Zhang Niansheng, and translated by PD Online staff member Li Heng.

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