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On D-Day, dishonour before death

Dubai, Dec. 15 (Reuters): He swore he would go down in a blaze of glory, but experts said today Saddam Hussein’s humiliating capture by US forces befitted the cowardly nature of a man who ruled by death yet loved life above all else.

The US administration in Iraq announced yesterday it had arrested Saddam and showed footage of the country’s dreaded former leader undergoing medical tests without a fuss.

His bushy beard and quiet demeanour belied the image of strength Saddam projected throughout his 35-year iron rule and the promises he made after his ouster in April that he would rather be a “martyr for Iraq” than fall into US hands.

“The main commodity of his rule was death, but it was a weapon that he was not willing to use upon himself,” Jawad al-Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and Dubai-based political analyst, said today.

“The fact that he chose to stay in that hole with the mice shows that he was clinging onto life, no matter how bad it was. Eventually, he was a coward.” For many in West Asia, Saddam’s arrest was a shock as he was the ultimate champion of causes dear to Arab hearts such as the recapture of east Jerusalem from Israeli rule.

Although he was reviled for his barbaric human rights violations, many Arabs saw him as a man of principle who dared stand up to the region’s hated superpower, the US.

But Baghdad’s fall to the US army without resistance and Saddam’s subsequent escape tarnished his image. Experts said his arrest on Saturday in Tikrit was the final blow.

“His image has been totally undermined,” said Iraq expert Mustafa Alani from London’s Royal United Services Institute. “Everyone expected him to fight to the death or commit suicide, but that is a choice he did not make. No one likes to admit it, but he’s a coward.” By contrast Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay died in July fighting US troops who raided their hideout in Iraq.

“It’s proven that he is a coward. All dictators in my opinion are cowards. He didn’t resist despite the weapons he had,” Iraqi foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Al Arabiya television.

Abdullah al-Otaibi, political science professor at Saudi Arabia’s leading King Fahd University, said he was not surprised that Saddam had been caught alive as it was the self-centred nature of dictators to hold life in such high esteem. “Saddam probably still thinks he can find himself an escape route by negotiating with the US. He wants to live, no matter what,” he said.

Like other controversial events, Saddam’s capture spawned conspiracy theories in the region, with many Arabs saying he had not offered any resistance because he had been drugged.

Prominent Saudi columnist Dawood al-Shirian said he believed Saddam could have been given a sedative before the medical checks but dismissed talk that a narcotic gas had been piped into his hiding hole prior to his arrest.

“He is a gang leader to which words like ‘bravery’ and ‘dignity’ do not apply. I think that he was a broken man who was tired of being on the run and of being betrayed,” Shirian said. Other analysts joined Arabs in casting doubts on the US version of Saddam’s arrest. Gulf analyst Moghazy al-Badrawy said the timing of the arrest was perfect for a US administration trying to divert attention from scandals related to its Iraq dealings.

“The US version of events is too perfect,” he said. “I think he was caught long before it was announced, but it will be years before we know what really happened.”

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