Text size

ATHENS - Deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could be offered a deal in which he would give his captors information on if and how he hid weapons of mass destruction and if he smuggled some of them into Syria. In exchange, he would face life imprisonment and not be executed for war crimes, senior Iraqis attending a conference here on the future of the region have hinted.

Saddam was captured, alive and well, on Saturday near his hometown of Tikrit. U.S. troops found him hiding in a subterranean hole. He did not resist.

The Iraqi figures also said that, even if the number of concealed weapons of mass destruction is not large, Saddam will certainly know who he appointed to take charge of the operation and in what area the weapons are being stored.

The possibility that Saddam transferred some of the weapons to Syria was raised on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when satellite pictures showed convoys moving from Iraq to Syria. It is still unknown precisely what was transported in these convoys, but it is clear that this was a secret operation between Iraq and Syria.

It was a unique experience to hear the news of Saddam's capture while in the company of Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians and other Arabs. One of the Kurdish representatives burst into the conference room in tears and demanded an immediate halt to the discussions.

"Saddam Hussein has been captured," he said, adding they had received word from Kurdistan, before the television reports. The delegate also claimed that most of the information leading to the deposed dictator's arrest had come from the Kurds, who had organized their own intelligence network and for months had been trying to uncover Saddam's tracks.

He further claimed that some six months ago, the Kurds had discovered that Saddam's wife was in the Tikrit area. This intelligence was transferred to the Americans, but the Kurds never received any news on what the coalition forces did with the information and were angered by this.

If it does emerge that most of the information that led to Saddam's arrest did indeed come from Kurdish sources, this will probably boost their status with Washington.

The capture of Saddam Hussein is the greatest success for the Americans since taking over Iraq. It does not, however, let the Americans off the hook on the question of how long their rule of occupation will remain in Iraq and how power will be transferred to the new Iraqi leaders without shocking the system. Will they wait until a new constitution is drawn up for Iraq and elections are held?

Iraqi delegates say the capture of Saddam will not mean an automatic, immediate end to guerrilla warfare and terror attacks against the coalition forces. The forces opposed to the Americans are mostly made up of former members of the Ba'ath movement, of Saddam's security and intelligence forces and volunteers from Arab states and have merely lost their "symbol" with Saddam's capture. In fact, these elements have been released from the heavy burden of a man identified with bloodshed and mass murder.

Saddam's capture enables the Americans to now define in a more coherent manner what their strategic goals are in Iraq, thus reducing their time there.

Iraqi representatives are divided over Saddam's expected trial. Some claim that since most of his crimes, including the use of chemical weapons on the Iraqi Kurdish population, were commited on Iraqi soil, he should be tried in Iraq. Others claim this is not desirable and there should be an international aspect to his trial. An Iraqi trial would make the internal reconciliation more difficult and could be seen as an American Iraqi-purifying trial. A special international war crimes trial, however, would have greater global resonance and would act as a deterrent against commiting war crimes in the future.