France hails Saddam capture
PARIS, Dec 14 (AFP) - France, which led opposition to the war on Iraq, said Sunday it was pleased with the arrest of Saddam Hussein and was ready to help in efforts to rebuild the shattered country.
“It is a major event which should strongly contribute to the democratisation and stabilisation of Iraq,” President Jacques Chirac said through his spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna.
The arrest “will allow the Iraqis to recover control of their fate in a sovereign Iraq.”
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin echoed the call for Iraqis to recover power over their country, and said France stood ready to participate in rebuilding the country.
“There is a path to be followed for the reconstruction of Iraq, and France is ready to take its full place within the framework of deeper cooperation with all of its partners,” he told journalists.
Saddam’s capture by US forces late Saturday “is a sign of encouragement for all the international community to recover its unity,” he said.
A statement from Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s office said: “The prime minister hopes that the acts of war and terrorist attacks that have multiplied in the past months will now cease so that the country can return to peace.”
It added that the arrest “must now open the way to Iraqi sovereignty.”
The repeated reference to Iraqis recovering power over their country underlined France’s call in recent months for the US-led forces occupying Iraq to quickly hand sovereignty back to the country.
After initially resisting that idea, Washington has now decided to move towards a transfer of authority by June next year.
France led the international opposition to the US-led war on Iraq, saying the US claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction posing an imminent threat were overstated.
De Villepin’s predecessor as foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, said Saddam’s capture gave the US forces in Iraq “a political authority, a legitimacy to try to better fix the central political problem” of nation-building.
But he warned that some hold-out groups would likely continue to resist the US occupation until the political future of Iraq was worked out.
A French priest who has become an expert on Iraq, Jean-Marie Benjamin, said the arrest may embolden the Shiite majority in Iraq and “in the middle-term push the country into civil war.”
“The Shiites were only waiting for this to demand elections in the hope of winning them and maybe installing an Islamic republic,” Benjamin told AFP.
A minor party in France’s left-wing opposition, the Greens, on Sunday said it wanted to see a trial of the former Iraqi leader take place in the International Criminal Court, a body the United States has sought to diminish.
“In no way would we accept the same conditions of detention or justice as those applied in Guantanomo,” party spokesman Yves Contassot said.
That was in reference to a US military detention camp in a leased part of Cuba that has been holding hundreds of alleged “enemy combatants” in months of legal limbo.
Contassot said Saddam’s arrest should also “speed the departure of the United States from the region and set-up of a democratic regime in Iraq.”
Subject: France news