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Applause dies down, acrimony takes over

London, Dec. 15 (Reuters): Near unanimous satisfaction among international powers at the US capture of Saddam Hussein was quickly giving way today to new diplomatic jostling over his fate and that of his oil-rich occupied nation.

Russia and France reminded the US of economic imperatives. Britain spoke out against Iraqis executing their former dictator.

Among Arabs, varied delight or relief in the halls of government mingled with some mistrust and resentment on the streets at the US might that had humbled a man many had looked up to as a defender of Arab and Muslim interests.

In Iraq, the grateful, Kalashnikov-fueled rejoicing that greeted pictures on Sunday of a dishevelled former ruler dragged from his “rat hole” fell silent; defiant voices were raised against the US occupiers, demanding immediate self-rule.

“The small Satan has gone and has been replaced by the biggest of all...America,” Sheikh Haidar Musawi, a radical cleric from Iraq’s Shia Muslim majority, said. Shias hate Saddam, who oppressed them.

Sharp early rises in world stock markets and the dollar were followed by more sober assessments of how far Saddam’s final demise would help stabilise Iraq.

UN allies like France and Germany, incensed by President George W. Bush’s invasion, were quick to offer congratulations. But disagreements about rebuilding Iraq soon resurfaced.

As Bush’s envoy James Baker set off to persuade European governments to waive debts run up by Saddam, France seized the initiative by offering the new Iraqi leadership a rapid deal. But sources in the Paris Club of creditor nations stressed that would be conditional on Washington returning full sovereignty to Baghdad and on an internationally approved reconstruction plan.

Russia was notably cool about Saddam’s arrest. “We are talking here about what is mainly a symbolic event,” deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov said.

Another looming source of friction may be the trial.

Leading Iraqis said they want to try Saddam under a tribunal agreed with Washington. They want to be able to execute him.

Legal experts abroad questioned whether he could get a fair trial and urged an international process, though the US has set its face against a new UN war crimes court.

Iran, which lost 300,000 people -- some in chemical attacks -- after Saddam invaded, said it wanted an international trial.

It made clear it wanted Saddam to publicly reveal what Iran has long claimed -- that the US quietly aided secular Baghdad in its 1980-88 war on the neighbouring Islamic republic.

“It should become clear at such a court who were those who mobilised this dictator to create turmoil in the region,” government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said in Tehran.

Despite the welcome for the news in Arab capitals, there was anger among many ordinary Arabs. “It was disgraceful to publish those pictures. It goes against human dignity, to present him like a gorilla,” said Moroccan journalist Khalid Jamai.

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