Minnesotans happy about Saddam’s capture

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 15, 2003

MINNETONKA &045; Abbas Mehdi, an Iraqi-born professor at St. Cloud State University, felt a complex mix of joy, disgust and personal humiliation as he watched TV reports on the dictator’s capture Sunday.

Mehdi was surprised by his own reaction as he saw video of the bedraggled Saddam being examined for head lice. It made him want to caution U.S. officials to take care with their treatment of Saddam not to aggravate the humiliation that many Iraqis feel about the situation in their country.

The Minnetonka resident said he felt &uot;joy and relief&uot; to see Saddam in custody. He felt disgust with Saddam for allowing himself to be captured.

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And he expressed confidence that many Iraqis &045; Saddam supporters and haters alike &045; will lose respect for Saddam for not killing himself in the moments before his capture.

&uot;Now he is not only a criminal, but a coward,&uot; Mehdi said.

But Mehdi also felt an unexpected personal sadness, that the man who has been synonymous with Mehdi’s homeland for many years was being prodded and displayed, as if this somehow symbolized how the whole country was being treated by its conquerors.

And he felt a sense of failure, as a longtime member of the anti-Saddam resistance, that the final defeat of Saddam was accomplished by outsiders, not by Iraqis themselves.

Mehdi said he hopes the Iraqi people are allowed to prosecute Saddam.

&uot;The American people should leave this to the Iraqi people,&uot; Mehdi said. &uot;They are the true victims of Saddam Hussein.&uot;

Minnesota’s congressional delegation also welcomed Saddam’s capture.

&uot;The lamp of liberty burns brighter today in Iraq, said Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht.

When insurgents &uot;see what vile conditions he (Saddam) had to endure in order to just keep himself in play, I think they will all likely turn away from terrorism … or guerrilla warfare,&uot; Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar said.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said the capture is &uot;a pivotal step in ensuring peace in Iraq and the Middle East. Saddam’s deadly shadow of fear &045; the fear of his return &045; is over.&uot;

Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton said it was &uot;very unfortunate that, coward that he is, he surrendered alive.&uot; But he said Saddam now must be tried as soon as possible to show the Iraqi people &uot;that he will never return to terrorize them again.&uot;

Retired Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who now lives near Garrison in central Minnesota, said U.S. forces in Iraq now face the double challenge of thwarting insurgent retaliation and keeping Saddam secure.

&uot;One challenge is to keep him alive and keep him secure,&uot; Vessey said. &uot;There is some danger of suicide and considerable danger of assassination.&uot;

Vessey, who led the joint chiefs under President Reagan at a time of conflict between Iraq and Iran, said the capture of Saddam, without shots fired, was a sign of military prowess.

&uot;It certainly could have been the other way as well when you look at the way his sons were taken down,&uot; Vessey said. &uot;The fact that they got Saddam in the way that they did is a demonstration that our troops are becoming more and more skilled at handling the situation.&uot;