SADDAM has been captured," was the only thing that I heard on the other end of the phone before jarring myself out of bedand darting to the television. As I watched Administrator Paul Bremer and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez show the video of Iraq's most notorious villain in custody, I felt a sigh of relief for all Iraqis, who would never have to face the prospect of this man ever hurting them again. I felt that our soldiers had accomplished something important last weekend.
Nonetheless, I have always opposed the war in Iraq and continue to oppose Iraq's subsequent occupation. As several news outlets called to get interviews on the American Muslim community's reaction to Saddam's capture; most of them were aware that many Muslims and Arabs, along with a significant number of other Americans, including presidential candidates, have been morally opposed to the war since its outset.
A recurring question from several journalists was the following: "Is it possible to be happy about Saddam's capture while still opposing the war?"
The answer is an emphatic, unqualified and resounding "Yes." It is imperative and logical to see the two issues of opposing the war and Saddam's capture as mutually exclusive. The primary reason is that there was not one person, President Bush included, who had a crystal ball when this war began. When America was debating the merits of going to war, there was absolutely no guarantee that Saddam would ever be caught, let alone found alive and unkempt in a "spider hole" near Tikrit nine months later.
Since President Bush is hardly clairvoyant and no one supporting the war had any idea that Saddam would be caught, any criticism of anti-war foes' delight at Saddam's capture is pro-war analysts' placing the chicken before the egg.
Many people see Saddam's capture as the complete redemption for supporting the war. With Saddam's dictatorial regime brutalizing Iraq for so long and with the video coverage of Saddam's capture, some people may mistakenly believe that we have accomplished all of our objectives in going to war.
Well, where are the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which were President Bush's chief justification for instigating this war? If these weapons do indeed exist, our boys in Baghdad had better find them, because now they have the only person who may know of their existence or lack thereof.
Even though the madman is no longer relevant to Iraqis, it is an unfortunate reality that Iraq is more of a threat to its neighbors and American interests today than it ever has been before. President Bush has stated on numerous occasions that Saddam loyalists are primarily responsible for the current insurgency. Although there are elements of Saddam loyalists involved in the insurgency, it would be myopic for anyone to believe that these attacks in Iraq will now stop.
This is quite clear from the facts of Saddam's arrest. If his "loyalists" supported him so stoically, it would seem logical to surmise that these throngs of supporters would be providing him food, shelter and clothing. Last weekend, he was found inside a mini-catacomb with only two cronies and some dirty plates -- hardly a place in which to be masterminding a national insurgency.
As in any other conundrum, there is no absolute right or wrong. So, even though I think the capture of Saddam is truly in the best interests of the Iraqi people and an accomplishment, when it comes to the war, many Americans see the egg before the chicken and still oppose this war and occupation.
As an American Muslim, I am thrilled that Saddam's cult of personality went out not with a roar, but with a whimper. With that, I hope that the healthy and constructive criticism of the occupation will continue on the home front. For that is the only way to demand the best foreign policy from the Bush administration, one that expedites the full autonomy and self-governance of Iraqis and brings our boys and girls in the armed forces quickly back into their families' loving arms.
Because once the elation from Saddam's capture recedes, we will soon realize that even though we have won the battle of capturing Saddam Hussein, we are still a long way from winning the war.
Arsalan T. Iftikhar is director of legal affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil-rights and advocacy group.
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