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Bush: Saddam Should Face 'Ultimate Penalty'

President Bush says he believes Saddam Hussein should face the "ultimate penalty" for crimes against the Iraqi people. Mr. Bush says that is only his opinion, and the final decision will rest with Iraq's new leaders.

In an interview with the ABC television network, President Bush says Saddam's capture was a joyous moment for the Iraqi people who he says are capable of trying their former leader themselves.

"I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty for what he has done to his people. He is a torturer, a murderer, and they had rape rooms, and this is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice," he said. "But that will be decided not by the president of the United States, but by the citizens of Iraq in one form or another."

Saddam could face the death penalty if he is tried in Iraq as expected. Under a United Nations tribunal, the harshest punishment would be a life sentence. Several international leaders have already come out against the death penalty for Saddam including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a spokesman for the Vatican.

In the president's first interview since the capture of the former Iraqi leader, Mr. Bush told ABC's Diane Sawyer that the world is better off now that Saddam's chapter in Iraqi history is over.

But he says there is a lot more to be done in the country, and the United States should continue to play a leading role in fighting terrorism, which he says is the ultimate challenge of the 21st century.

As part of that challenge, Mr. Bush says U.S. and coalition forces will stay in Iraq until the job is done.

Saddam's capture has boosted the president's public opinion ratings, with 58 percent of Americans now approving of his handling of the conflict Iraq. That is up ten points from less than one month ago and is his highest approval rating since July.

The conflict in Iraq and the state of the U.S. economy are expected to be the biggest issues in the president's campaign for re-election next year.