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Iraq: Bremer Says Trial Of Saddam Hussein Could Calm Some Insurgents But Incite Others

Allawi (left) and Bremer at the 28 June handover of authority in Baghdad Former top U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer says trying Saddam Hussein could have a mixed effect on the insurgency in Iraq. He says it could cause some groups of Saddam loyalists to admit defeat. But he warns that other groups may become further enraged and try harder to disrupt Iraq's reconstruction.

Prague, 5 July 2004 (RFE/RL) – Bremer spoke yesterday about the arraignment on 1 July of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity.

"I think [trying Saddam is] a very healthy thing,” Bremer said. “The emotions surrounding Saddam's capture were really quite extraordinary, even for those of us who were living in Iraq. And the jubilation of the fact that he was captured -- actually, the jubilation of the death of his sons -- was also quite dramatic. So the fact this week that [Iraqis] saw him beginning the process of standing trial, I think, will be very helpful."

Bremer's remarks -- made on a U.S. television news show -- echo those of other top U.S. officials welcoming the start of the legal proceedings against the former Iraqi dictator. Washington and Iraqi officials have called Hussein's trial essential to building Iraqis' confidence in the country's transition to a more democratic state.

Yet the former head of the now disbanded U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority also warned that putting Hussein on trial could have a mixed effect on some elements of the Iraqi public.

He said the sight of Hussein firmly in the hands of the new Iraqi government could cause some groups of Saddam loyalists to finally admit defeat.

But he said other groups may simply become further enraged at what they see as the humiliation of their former leader by a U.S.-backed Iraqi administration.

"It could have two effects," Bremer said. "Some of them may finally realize that it's really over, that Saddam's days are really over and he's now going to stand trial. Others may be angry about it and may try to increase their attacks. It could have a mixed impact."

Evidence that trying Hussein will increase anger among some Iraqis came on 3 July at a demonstration in support of the former leader.

In the demonstration in the central Iraqi town of Dour -- near where Hussein was captured in December -- loyalists of the old regime chanted and fired off weapons in a public show of defiance.

The level of insurgent attacks appears unaffected by the appearance of Hussein and 11 of his top deputies in a courtroom near Baghdad. Successive bombings of oil pipelines in recent days have reportedly cut in half exports from the south of the country as part of a continuing guerrilla campaign targeting infrastructure.

Unidentified groups have repeatedly hit Iraq's oil industry -- the sole domestic source of revenue for the new government -- to weaken exports. The attacks also disrupt power supplies, setting back reconstruction efforts to demonstrate the new government can improve ordinary Iraqis' standard of living.

"The New York Times" reported recently that due to sabotage and engineering problems, electricity production in Iraq "has been stuck around 4,000 megawatts for months." The paper said "not only is that less than during the Saddam Hussein era, but it is far below the U.S. promise of 6,000 megawatts."

It remains unclear to what extent elements of the former regime lead or coordinate insurgent attacks. U.S. and Iraqi officials say that other insurgent groups include Islamic militants and foreign terrorist cells.

U.S. military commanders also say a growing role in the insurgency is being played by nationalist recruits motivated by anger over the occupation of Iraq and the mounting toll on civilians. Working relationships among the various insurgent groups are suspected but not well understood.

"The New York Times" today quoted U.S. officials as saying privately that a network of Saddam Hussein's cousins, operating in part from Syria and Jordan, is actively involved in the smuggling of guns, people, and money into Iraq to support the anti-American insurgency.

The paper said the charge is "based in part on suspicious recent movements of money and goods, including the transfer of cash into Syria, that were detected by American intelligence."

Bremer said he does not expect Islamic militant components of the insurgency to be affected by the trial of Saddam Hussein. He also suggested that foreign-led groups -- such as that led by Jordanian-born extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- would likely remain active long after other insurgent groups are defeated or come to terms with the new Iraqi order.

"The terrorists -- the Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda terrorists -- don't need any spurring on," Bremer said. "They see correctly that as we go forward towards representative government in Iraq, it takes the entire base of their operations out from under them. Why should they be attacking a sovereign Iraqi government? Why should they be attacking a representative Iraqi government? So I don't think it affects it even at the margins. I mean, they're at war."

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has promised to introduce a tough new security law to curb insurgents but has yet to provide details of its contents. However, the government today postponed publication of the law -- originally set for over the weekend -- without explanation and without setting a new date for its unveiling.

Senior Iraqi government officials have told reporters the law would set curfews in trouble spots, reinstate the death penalty, and offer a partial amnesty to encourage guerrillas to turn in their weapons.

A spokesman for Allawi, Georges Sada, said yesterday, "if [a guerrilla] was in opposition against the Americans, that will be justified because it was an occupation force. We will give them freedom."

He said it is not clear whether the pardon would extend to insurgents who had killed U.S. soldiers, adding that "there is still heavy discussion about this."