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Unanswered Security Questions Follow Saddam Capture - 2003-12-15


Captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been the chaotic country's number-one fugitive, and coalition leaders have blamed his followers for the continuing attacks on U.S. troops and civilian targets. The governing council is setting up a special tribunal and wants to try Saddam for crimes against humanity. But there are still many unanswered questions about what will happen next.

For most Iraqis, the capture of Saddam Hussein was totally unexpected, and even shocking, especially the fact that coalition troops found the ex-dictator at the bottom of a two-meter hole in the ground.

Saddam was the Americans' most wanted man in Iraq, and now that they have him, they have to decide what to do with him.

The commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, says whatever comes next, the arrest of Saddam is a watershed. "The capture of Saddam Hussein is a defining moment in the new Iraq. I expect that the detention of Saddam Hussein will be regarded as the beginning of reconciliation for the people of Iraq, and as a sign of Iraq's rebirth," he says.

Clearly, U.S. and coalition officials are hoping that Saddam's arrest will eventually end the attacks against American troops, the coalition and Iraqi civilians. But General Sanchez says he does not expect that to happen right away. "We've repeatedly stated that this is a critical moment in the history of the country, in the history of our attempt to bring stability and security to Iraq. But we do not expect at this point in time that we will have a complete elimination of those attacks. I believe that those will continue for some time. But with the cooperation of all of the Iraqi people and our coalition, I believe that we are now much closer to a safe and secure environment here in the country," he says.

The most direct evidence that the attacks will not stop with Saddam's arrest comes from the town of Khazimiya, near Baghdad, where the military says a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi police station early Sunday, killing at least 10 people and wounding many more.

That was just about 12 hours after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

There is considerable controversy over the incident, with many local residents telling journalists they saw a U.S. fighter jet shoot a missile at the station at the height of morning traffic. A police officer who was wounded in the attack told one reporter that the police had refused to accompany U.S. troops on a raid earlier that morning, and he believed the attack was revenge. The local hospital also says the death toll is considerably higher than the Americans claim.

Regardless of what happened in Khazimiya, the head of the coalition provisional authority, Paul Bremer, says he hopes the people who have been fighting against the coalition troops will begin to change their minds now that Saddam has been captured. "With the arrest of Saddam Hussein, there is a new opportunity for the members of the former regime, whether military or civilian, to end their bitter opposition. Let them now come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and hope, lay down their arms, and join you, their fellow citizens, in the task of building a new Iraq," he says.

It is still not clear, however, what exactly will happen to Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi governing council clearly expects that the coalition will turn him over to them, to stand trial at a special tribunal being set up to handle crimes against humanity.

But Mr. Bremer, while not denying that Saddam will be turned over to the Iraqis, seemed to indicate that his future is uncertain. "The determination about how and when Saddam will face justice, and he will face justice, is a question that still remains before us," he says.

Many Iraqis would see it as a tremendous slap in the face if they were denied the opportunity to try their ousted leader themselves. Some are already calling for the re-instatement of the death penalty, which was suspended after the regime fell. President Bush says the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions of Iraqis. How and when Mr. Hussein will be put on trial are questions many Iraqis hope will be answered soon.