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memri
December 16, 2003 No.
628

The Arab Media Reaction to Saddam's Arrest: Part I

The capture of Saddam Hussein has dominated the headlines in all of the Iraqi and most of the Arab press. The following is a survey comprised of two parts: The first part focuses on the Iraqi press reaction that MEMRI has received from its office in Baghdad, and is followed by reactions from the Arab press in general:

Part I: The Iraqi Press

The leading independent Iraqi daily, Al-Zaman, editorialized under the title "The Fall of Saddam is Complete and the Sun has Returned to Shine on Iraq:"

"It is a great day indeed. The era of oppression and dictatorship has gone forever… With the fall of Saddam, submissive and meek, in the hands of the American Fourth [Infantry] Division, the fallen regime has spent its last breath… He [Saddam] proved to be a coward who would not defend himself… The Iraqis are confronting new evidence today that oppression must come to an end and be accounted for.

"The capture of Saddam is another window of hope for a clean Iraq, swimming in sunshine and far away from a dark past crowded by the dungeons of the secret services in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have disappeared because of a word or a whisper or an opposing view. " [1]

Under the headline, "Saddam is Finished and the News has Shaken the World," the daily Al-Sabah, wrote: "In a secret hideout, deep in the ground with but an opening for ventilation in a farm close to Tikrit, prepared for him as a 'fortress,' Saddam was finished. The news that has shaken the world [showed him] in tattered clothing, long and unkempt beard and hair characterized by some tranquility mixed with defeat and surrender to his ultimate fate. This was the picture in which Saddam was seen as finished as he was subject to DNA tests to ascertain his identity… This is always the destiny of every dictator, despot, and oppressor where the wastebasket of history awaits his likes every time and everywhere."

The same daily described the population's joy, reflected in the distribution of sweets, the firing of guns in the air and the ululation of women at the demise of the dictator "who has excelled in war games, mass killing, destruction, and the increase [in the number] of orphans and widows throughout this injured land, whose time has come to restore its health and bid farewell to the Republic of Fear." [2]

A second editorial in Al-Sabah by Sa'ad Hadi , titled "An End Suitable for Criminals," stated: "This is how the beast finally appeared in his true form which he has hidden for 35 years - a form of someone mentally deranged, weak, and a liar who knows nothing but the art of deceit and betrayal.

"This is how the 'Prince of Darkness' was picked up from his hole without resistance. If there was another person in his place, he would have deserved sympathy, but a criminal like him does not deserve but a long moment of silence to remember his crimes and wickedness, and what he has left behind in pain and agony in the hearts of the Iraqis." [3]

Abd Al-Bassit Al-Naqqash, the Editor-in-Chief of the daily Al-'Ahd Al-Jadid, writes in an editorial titled "The Blessed Editorial:"

"The day of the despot… we have said that it was coming and have no doubt about it. And there shall be no escape for the judgment of Allah on the wicked. Justice has caught the bloodsucker, the despot who has humiliated his people and relatives!!! We were notified yesterday, and in Karbala [the Shi'ite holy city] of all places… of the capture of Saddam Hussein. Guns began firing announcing happiness which exceeded the happiness of the 'Id [religious holiday] and exceeded the fall of the entire regime on April 9… the entire population demonstrated against Saddam Hussein's terrorism, and the cries of the honest people in Iraq and the entire world were heard calling for freedom for the patient Iraqis, the people of goodness and the people of history and the people of knowledge which has shone over the world… it is the great Iraq and its people, Arabs and Kurds, Turkmen and other minorities, and all the monotheistic religions, against the unbelief, oppression despotism that were personified by Saddam Hussein. This is the clearest and most beautiful morning in my country, Mesopotamia. Be joyful, oh my brothers, be joyful oh my brothers, for this is great news for Iraq." [4]

In the Al-Nahdha daily, Jalal Al-Masheta writes under the title "What is After the Red Dawn?" that, "the hyena, which always pretended to be a peacock, has finally fallen into the trap. Saddam Hussein, who has written his name on the stones of Babylon and turned his statutes into new idols and coveted Iraq as a personal property while [forcing] some of its people across the border at one time and at other times another forcing them into mass graves or burning in the fire of wars, has fallen.

"The hyena which aspired to be a peacock in his tails, a lion in his courage but for the 'Red Dawn,' which was executed by the American forces in cooperation with Iraqi elements and resulted in the arrest of the pretender without resistance and without anyone to mourn [him]. The peacock has folded his tail and the lion has opened his mouth to count what was left of his fangs… And thus has come to an end the legend and the bubbles have burst…" [5]

The daily Baghdad, associated with the National Reconciliation Movement in Iraq, writes in an editorial: "This has been one of the great scenes of the century. The written word says that Saddam Hussein has fallen into the cage of justice. The celebration was the firing of guns as well as the shedding of tears, and the unannounced cries from the mouths of thousands of victims… A thick beard, a hair that was not touched by the scissors of the private barber from the night of his escape, and two frightened eyes, as though he was reviewing the days and nights of the boasting and bragging. Have you remembered, Mr. President, the moment of lighting the huge Havana cigar? One Cuban cigar you used to burn and spread its smoke and illusions over those who are with you; those who were carrying ribbons and medals of fear and deceit. It [the price of the cigar] would have been enough to feed a whole family for a month." [6]

"Peace, Tolerance and National Reconciliation" is the heading of an editorial in the daily Al-Ta'akhi, associated with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Jalal Talabani. The editorial writes: "The time has come to control emotions and return to tranquility, logic and contemplation. The despotic regime that has harmed the people's present and future has been sealed. What was expected has happened with the arrest of the deposed president who will be put to a public trial. And Paul Bremer has found the needle in a haystack. Saddam's regime has fallen last April and the ensuing months have witnessed acts of bombings, destruction, and assassinations… which alleged to have Saddam behind them. His capture will demonstrate the extent of the impact of his arrest on the reduction or continuation of the terrorist activities… The capture of the despot will weaken the front [opposing the Governing Council] and will strengthen the Governing Council and all the supporters of the new era. It will raise the credit of the government of the American president, particularly in the presidential battle, and will also raise the credit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the rest of the allies." [7]

Related News in the Iraqi Press

In connection with the capture of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi press carried a number of news items of interest:

'Al-Jazeera Tried to Kill the Joy of the Iraqis'

According to the Iraqi daily Al-'Ahd Al-Jadid, "Al-Jazeera channel has apparently tried last night to kill the joy of the Iraqis by televising meetings with the horn-blowers and beneficiaries of Saddam and his gang. It has also tried to incite others by reporting on the subsequent attacks by the resistance following the arrest of the head of the pyramid and forgot that Saddam was the head of a sword who surrendered quietly." [8]

The Museum of Saddam's Gifts will be the Site of the Court that will Try Him

A spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council has announced that the court established to try those who committed crime against humanity will use the Museum of Saddam's Gifts as its site. The hall to be used, which was the repository of Saddam's gifts, is so tall that Iraqis call it "the Clock Tower." [9]

Part II: The Arab Press
The London Arabic-Language Press

Al-Hayat: 'He Didn’t Resist'

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat's December 15th headline read, "He Didn't Resist, He Has No Regrets," and the paper printed several op-eds on Saddam's capture.

The paper's Deputy Editor Ghassan Charbal wrote: "Where is the pistol they said was his old comrade and last friend? Where is the last bullet he said he was saving for himself, so his enemies would not see him in captivity?… The story could have been different had his finger come near the trigger and had the barrel been put to his temple, and had the Americans gotten a corpse, not a prisoner.

"… The legend is always greater than the man, and becomes a story without a bullet. A corpse would not have been pardoned for his deeds, but it would at least have helped claim that he paid the price… The master of the bullets was parsimonious on one bullet to his temple - despite his great generosity in all things regarding bullets for others…" [10]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: 'Saddam's Arrest is an Insult to Arab Honor'

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: "… The night Saddam was arrested was another night of defeat for Arab propaganda that has become accustomed to spreading illusions while basing itself on ghosts, certain that none will discover the truth… His appearance angered all those misled by the illusions, because he did not wear an explosive belt, did not rely on a submachine gun, and did not swallow cyanide capsules to commit suicide. All he possessed was a telephone and a bundle of dollars with which he ruled what remained of Iraq from a small pit, as he had from his luxury palace in Baghdad - with one hand ordering killing, with the other hand buying loyalty. His end is the end of one of the false heroes that fill the pages of our history. Because we know that when one lie falls, another is born, we anticipate a new chapter of fraud." [11]

The Egyptian Press

In his op-ed, the editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Ibrahim Nafi',took a different approach: "The sight of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein at the time of his arrest… is painful and shocking. No Arab would wish this upon the Arab president of Iraq, one of the most important Arab countries… Many Iraqis hoped that his rule would be ended by the Iraqis, but Saddam rejected all calls to him by the Arab forces, primarily by Egypt, to prevent the danger lying in wait for Iraq and the Arabs. He entered into an ill-thought-out conflict with the international forces that seek to rule the world… Now he must be tried in an Iraqi court, not an American court.

"Ultimately, he is an Arab president, and his crimes and mistakes, from beginning to end, were against the Iraqi people and its neighbor Kuwait." [12]

Al-Ahram's editorial stated that it was reasonable to assume that resistance to the American forces would continue, and that the Shiites would join in. [13]

The Saudi Press

Abdallah Nasser Al-Fawzan wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Watan: "… In all seriousness, I feel a powerful desire to now pen a long, warm eulogy for Saddam's two sons Uday and Qusay, who joined many of the victims of their father, the false 'Knight of Knights,' who succeeded in deceiving them as well. Because they thought… that their father would not surrender to the Americans, whatever the cost, and that it would be shameful and humiliating if they did so, they resisted the Americans, to their deaths…

"We all saw the pictures… Saddam was miserable, and I, as an Arab, felt humiliation. But my other feelings against Saddam were stronger. He was a paper knight." [14]

Columnist Suleiman Al-'Aqili wrote in Al-Watan:"… [This is] a golden opportunity to instill realism into Arab policy and close the door on all military adventures and political slogans that tickle the feelings of the masses without taking consequences into account… Everyone is called upon to thoroughly examine the declarations by opportunistic politicians before they believe them, primarily after we see how they confront enemies, while the simple folk sacrifice their souls to expel invaders…" [15]

The Jordanian Press

George Hadad wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: "The theory of 'kill the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter' in which tyrants and villains have always believed, as have sheep thieves and wolves, is a theory that has been proven a failure by history… Iraq is occupied by the international mafias, the warmongers, the oil gangs, and world Zionism, and all the media and all the [channels] of distortion in the world, headed by the Arab oil-satellite channels, cannot change this fact and present invasion and aggression as liberation. Iraq is Iraq, before Saddam Hussein and after Saddam Hussein… The arrest of President Hussein will perhaps benefit the American president in his television appearances and media fireworks, but ultimately it will be the most important lesson that the Iraqis teach the world, and whoever survives will see it!" [16]

Battr Muhammad 'Ali Wardam wrote, "In the next stage, the real Iraqi resistance will arise, and under its banner will crowd all the Iraqis who hesitated to join the resistance that suffered from the propaganda that said that it was Ba'athist and pro-Saddam…" [17]

The Palestinian Press

In an editorial, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds wrote: "… This event reflects the fragility of the Arab regimes, from which broad sectors of the peoples have dissociated themselves. This sight [of the arrest of] Saddam Hussein… will remain among the painful sights of history that attest to the humiliation and atrophy to which the Arab nation has sunk as a result of the disagreements, [internal] struggles, and pursuit of [private] interests…

"The saddest and most disgraceful thing in all things concerning Saddam Hussein and his regime is that toppling the regime and arresting its head was carried out by the occupation forces. Had this operation been carried out by the Iraqis, it would not have caused such a flurry of emotions. Thus, every [incident] of resistance in Iraq will constitute a natural response to the desecration of Iraqi sovereignty…" [18]

The Emergence of Conspiracy Theories

While most newspapers reported the act of Saddam's capture in detail, there are beginning to emerge "conspiracy theories." Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and a loyalist of Saddam Hussein, wrote that the arrest of Saddam "without resistance, hiding in a small and filthy hole, was most likely a theatre and a finely woven hatching operation." [19]

In its editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh suggested that a conspiracy was at work: "… It can be thought that Saddam was in the hands of the Americans, and that his public exposure was a show produced with the aim of neutralizing the explosive situation, and so that it would be possible to ease the emotional and military pressure by the American forces and give new momentum to the American president just when he needs this kind of event…" [20]

The Saudi daily Okaz theorizes that Saddam's second wife, Samira Al-Shabandar, who lives in Lebanon under a false identity with Saddam's only surviving son, Ali, may have been the source of information which led to Saddam's arrest. "It is possible," says the paper, that "for delivering the head of her husband she will receive the award of $25 million," offered by the U.S. for information leading to Saddam's arrest or killing. [21]

What leads credence to this theory is an interview with Samira Al-Shabandar which fortuitously appeared in the Sunday Times on December 14 and was summarized in the London-based Arabic paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. According to Al-Shahbandar, Saddam has been in touch with her on the phone about once a week. It is this information which led Okaz to suspect that the phone calls were monitored by the U.S. forces and led to Saddam's arrest. [22] The Iraqi daily Al-Zaman quotes a Palestinian in the West Bank who was certain that Saddam was anticipating the arrest because of an agreement with the Americans reached through intermediaries. [23] An interviewee from Tikrit, Saddam's home town, was certain he was "drugged" before he was arrested because "he is a lion and will remain a lion." [24]


[1] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 15, 2003.

[2] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[3] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[4] Al-'Ahd Al-Jadid (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[5] Al-Nahdha (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[6] Baghdad, December 15, 2003.

[7] Al-Taakhi (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[8] Al-'Ahd Al-Jadid (Baghdad), December 15, 2003.

[9] Al-Rassed Al-Iraqi (Iraq), December 15, 2003.

[10] Al-Hayat (London), December 15, 2003.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 15, 2003.

[12] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 15, 2003.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 15, 2003.

[14] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[15] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[16] Al-Dustour (Jordan), December 15, 2003.

[17] Al-Dustour (Jordan), December 15, 2003.

[18] Al-Quds (PA), December 15, 2003.

[19] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 15, 2003.

[20] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[21] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2003.

[22] The interview with Shahbandar appears in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 15, 2003.

[23] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 15, 2003.

[24] Al-Jazeera TV, December 15, 2003.