Saddam Hussein captured

The official announcement was made by Tony Blair at 11:15am London time, although the Iranian National News Agency and a few members of the Iraqi Governing Council knew of the arrest earlier. President Bush is set to make an announcement later in the day.

According to Ahmed Chalabi's spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, Saddam had dug a hole in the basement of a house where he was hiding and buried himself. He had a salt and pepper beard when soldiers arrested him, was shaved and photographed and then his blood was drawn for DNA testing. The test confirmed his identity.

Iraqis started celebrating in the streets as the news spread. Many will undoubtedly want to exact (well-deserved) revenge on him, but officials are saying that he will stand trial in Iraq. But Iraq's war crimes tribunal, which unlike similar courts set up for the former Yugoslovia and Rwanda among others is not an international court, leaves to be desired. The war crimes tribunal was announced last week and will be composed entirely of Iraqis. Some human rights experts have criticized it for not meeting the standards of international law.

Experts questioned by AFP agreed the Iraqi tribunal should work with the UN to ensure that trials will be impartial.

“Bring it under the UN and take it away from the Iraqi governing council, which is a political organ, and the US,” Jones recommended. Human Rights Watch also proposed a role for the UN with Iraqi judges and prosecutors mixed with international judges and prosecutors who are used to trying war crimes cases.

“The only way to set it up is hold it in another country and internationalize the process,” McDonald agrees.

As an example they point to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone which is UN backed but not a UN institution like the courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and based on a mixture of international and national law.


Update: The BBC has posted a nice "Saddam Hussein in pictures" feature as well as a profile. Upon reflection, this arrest may well mark a turning point for the situation in Iraq and the way it is viewed outside. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot changes over the next few weeks in the diplomatic debacle over Iraq as well as the way the occupation is viewed both inside Iraq and inside the US. This brings a real sense of closure that may be more psychologically important than any other event in the war so far.

Update 2: The AP's Hamza Hendawi looks at the possibility of putting Saddam on trial, and US forces have released a picture:

Saddam with beard
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.