Originally created 12/15/03

Celebratory gunfire but Iraqis stunned Saddam didn't fight back, see it as stain on Arab honor



BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein should have put up a fight or committed suicide, stunned Iraqis said Sunday after watching images of their fallen leader, haggard and humiliated, in American custody.

As news of his capture spread across the country, celebratory shooting erupted in Baghdad's streets, soldiers cheered and victims of his tyranny thanked the United States. Many said it marked a new beginning for Iraq.

But for some, his capture was a blow to hopes for Saddam's triumphant return, and his peaceful surrender was seen as a stain on Arab honor.

"He swore before the war that Iraqis would fight America, and then he didn't fire a single shot," said Kassem Shelshul, a 28-year-old chauffeur living in Baghdad. "We expected him to commit suicide or resist," he said after watching video of the captured dictator.

It was a publicly humiliating end to a leader who for 30 years presented himself to his people only in the most monumental terms. Video released by the U.S. military showed the bearded, wild-haired leader in custody, submitting to a doctor probing his mouth with rubber-gloved hands. Though U.S. officials said Saddam had a pistol with him when he was caught, he didn't use it.

Iraqis were shocked that the man they feared for three decades was found hiding in a hole and gave up without a fight.

"For the last 35 years Saddam Hussein presented himself as a lion against the Americans and the West and now today they found him like a mouse," said Laad Hamadi, an Iraqi civil engineer. "He didn't fight for his country, he didn't even fight for himself."

Some called Saddam a coward for getting caught. Others were glad he didn't die a martyr.

"He killed my son Mohammed and he tortured his people," 40-year-old Halem al-Jassen said as she celebrated in the street. "Thank God for the United States."

In the Kurdish city of Kirkuk in the north, eight people were killed and 80 wounded from gunfire during celebrations of Saddam's capture.

But for Saddam's supporters, the day was one of loss.

Safa al-Douri, a 36-year-old grocery store owner in Adwar, the town where Saddam was captured late Saturday, said it was too painful to watch the video.

"I could not stand looking at him. When I heard the news of his arrest it was as though somebody told me my father had died," he said. "But when I saw his face, it was even worse."

In Baghdad, members of the Iraqi Communist Party, which was banned and persecuted under Saddam's rule, were simply jubilant, passing around bags of candy and raising red flags outside party headquarters.

Shiite clerics offered sweets to worshippers who attended afternoon prayers; residents of the capital burned old currency emblazoned with Saddam's photograph, radio stations played festive music and bus passengers cheered: "They got Saddam, they got Saddam."

Ayet Bassem, who wore the traditional black cloak of religious Muslim women, was overcome with relief.

"Things will be better for my son," she said, clutching the hand of 6-year-old Zenalbadin. "My son now has a future."

But her sentiment wasn't shared by all.

At Baghdad's Palestine hotel, where foreign journalists and American contract workers are staying, Abil Daoud was sad.

"We lost our only hope and now we are stuck with the Americans," said Daoud, who is employed by U.S. troops as a security guard.

After two hours of celebrations, worried shopkeepers in the capital hurried to close their businesses early and get home before the shooting increased.

Among them was Yehya Hassan.

"I'm very happy. Now we can start a new beginning."

Outside the capital, in places such as Mosul, where attacks on Americans have been particularly intense over the past two months, Noha Fakhri wanted to cry.

"I love Saddam," she said. "I had hope that he might return to power, but now I know he won't."