Divisions are set aside in response to capture

Posted in Iraq | 15-Dec-03 | Author: Patrick Tyler| Source: The New York Times

European leaders, even those critical of Iraq war, talk of chance for stability

LONDON - The capture of Saddam Hussein restored a sense of unity Sunday among world leaders as they welcomed the demise of one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators and expressed hope that his arrest would open a new chapter of stability and reconciliation in postwar Iraq.

Gone for the moment were recriminations over the justifications set out for the war in Washington and London, where prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction has been picked apart in acrimonious national debates.

Gone also, for the moment, were the recriminations over Washington's plan to exclude some countries, notably Germany and France, from the spoils of reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British public in a televised address, "Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people in Iraq."

Blair's government has been under intense pressure over the intelligence that was used to justify the war. His political advisers have been bracing themselves for the final report of a formal inquiry by Lord Hutton into whether the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was exaggerated during its editing and release by the prime minister's office.

The leaders of France and Germany, Europe's greatest skeptics on the need to go to war with Iraq last spring, were also quick to rejoice at the news of Saddam's capture, but each tended to use their celebratory comments to emphasize their positions that sovereignty should be handed over to a new Iraqi government as quickly as possible. "It's a major event that should strongly contribute to democracy and stability in Iraq and allow the Iraqis to master their destiny," President Jacques Chirac of France said in a statement.

The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, sent a letter to President George W. Bush that offered congratulations "on this successful action."

In a separate statement, his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, added, "This important success offers the chance to speed up the handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government to increase stability in Iraq." Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said the arrest of Saddam was "a decisive blow against the Iraqi guerrillas who are sowing death" by attacking United States and allied forces, as they did on Sunday in setting off a car bomb at a police station west of Baghdad that killed 17 Iraqis.

Italian troops have been targets as well, with 19 soldiers killed last month in an attack on the Italian headquarters in Nasiriya.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters that he had "rejoiced at the news." "I thought of words like peace and reconciliation, democracy and development," he said. "I thought of Iraq, but also of Palestine and Israel," he added, expressing the hope that the removal of Saddam, whom he referred to as "the weapon of mass destruction," could have positive repercussions throughout the region. Prime Minister José María Aznar of Spain, whose forces in Iraq lost seven intelligence officers last month in an attack on a convoy, said: "This is a good day for everyone. It is a good day for the whole world."

He added, "The moment has come for him to pay for his crimes."