'Saddam's capture a huge victory for Bush'


December 15, 2003

By Jean-Louis Doublet

Washington - The capture of Saddam Hussein is a personal victory for American President George Bush and another boost to his campaign to secure a new four-year term at the White House.

Bush once called the Iraqi dictator "the guy who tried to kill my dad". Saddam was accused of organising an assassination attempt on his father, while insisting there was no element of personal revenge in the invasion of Iraq, which has since caused problems for the US leader.

Saddam's capture will put a new spring in the step of Bush, for whom Iraq remains the major obstacle to persuading the American people to give him a vote of confidence.

The "we got him" declaration by the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, highlighted the triumphal mood of the US government.

Even before the humiliating arrest in a bolt hole under a farmhouse in northern Iraq, support for the invasion had been rising again in the United States.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents to a Gallup poll for USA Today/CNN released last week said the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, up from 56 percent in November 16. Fifty-five percent said they approved of Bush's handling of his position, up from 50 percent in mid-November.

Ratings had improved since Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad in November to spend Thanksgiving with US troops.

The administration had accused the former dictator and his remaining loyalists of directing the insurgency that has taken a mounting toll on the 130 000 US troops in Iraq since Bush declared the end of major combat there on May 1.

About 200 US soldiers have been killed since then, more than in the invasion, and the image of Bush's triumphant May 1 speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln has been increasingly seized upon by opposition Democrats in their criticism of his Iraq policy.

Iraq remains a problem as the United States has still not found the banned nuclear, biological and chemical weapons used to justify the invasion. And the United States has still not caught terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, whose attacks two years ago unleashed Bush's war on terrorism.

National security advisor Condoleezza Rice warned late Sunday that Saddam's capture might not lead to a decrease in violence directed against US forces and their allies in Iraq.

"We do expect that violence will continue," Rice told NBC News. "We do expect that those who will clearly lose their privileges and who have terrorised their fellow Iraqi citizens will continue to terrorise their fellow Iraqi citizens."

Democrats seeking Bush's job said Saddam's capture should clear the way for seeking greater international co-operation on Iraq.

"It's a magnificent opportunity for the president of the United States to shift gears and reduce the burden for America, reduce the burden on our soldiers, and get the world involved," Senator John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate, told Fox News.

Another Democrat, Howard Dean, echoed that view: "This development provides an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war. We must do everything possible to bring the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and other members of the international community back into this effort."

Meanwhile, the White House has moved to speed up the transfer of sovereignty from the US-named administration in Iraq to a civilian authority, in line with international demands.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, run by Bremer, which effectively governs the country, will be dissolved at the end of June 2004 and a transition civilian government will take charge of organising elections for an assembly to write a new constitution.

The new timetable dovetails with Bush's efforts to put Iraq back on track in time to trumpet his efforts for the November presidential election.

The detention will also be a relief to James Baker, the former secretary of state, who leaves on a mission on Monday to persuade European opponents of the Iraq war to help reduce the country's estimated $120-billion (about R767-million) foreign debt.

Baker's itinerary includes France, Germany and Russia, the three countries that led opposition to the war at the UN.