Image: Iraqis celebrate
Alexander Demianchuk  /  Reuters
A group of Iraqis celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on Monday. But new attacks on Monday shattered hopes that Saddam's capture would bring a quick end to violence.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/15/2003 6:52:28 AM ET 2003-12-15T11:52:28

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the streets of Baghdad rang with celebratory gunfire and shouts of joy as Iraqis caught the news of Saddam Hussein's arrest.  By the next morning, many Iraqis' mood had soured, as they complained of ongoing violence and skyrocketing prices under U.S. occupation.

As the sun rose Monday, Iraqis scrambled to snatch up newspapers emblazoned with photos of the man who ruled them by fear, now humbled and captive.

Many were ecstatic to see Saddam in the dock and hoped he would answer for his deeds but were not in any mood to thank the American-led administration -- in their eyes the source of many problems since Saddam's government was toppled in April.

"I hope that we get the chance to try him our way, to let everyone who suffered make him taste what he had made us taste," said Ali Hussein, 29, a stationery shop owner who said he was still dizzy with joy.

"But whether he's in a hole or in jail, it does nothing for me today, it won't feed me or protect me or send my children to school," he said.

And the violence that has marked the U.S. occupation didn't ease as car bombs ripped through two police stations in the capital, the latest in a series of attacks U.S. forces blame on Saddam loyalists of Saddam and foreign fighters.

'Great that he's caught, but ...'
As hundreds of drivers lined up to get gasoline, many repeated complaints about chronic fuel shortages in a country with the world's second-largest oil reserves, as well as of their treatment at the hands of troops who have killed civilians while hunting suspected Saddam partisans or pursuing criminals with Iraqi police.

"It's great that he's caught, but it wasn't him who screwed up the petrol and the electricity and everything else so badly, so now a canister of gas that was 250 dinars costs 4,000, if you can get one," said Ghazi, a 52-year-old dentist. "This is an oil country and it should be rich. It should not be Afghanistan."

"The Americans promised freedom and prosperity; what's this? Go up to their headquarters, at one of those checkpoints where they point their guns at you, and tell them that you hate them as much as Saddam, and see what they do to you," said Mohammad Saleh, 39, a building contractor.

"The only difference is that Saddam would kill you in private, where the Americans will kill you in public," he said.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, U.S. soldiers on Monday used batons to break up a demonstration by Saddam loyalists, witnesses said.  Chanting "We sacrifice our blood and souls for you Saddam," scores of people gathered outside Tikrit's university to denounce the dictator's arrest.

Initial celebration
The tone was markedly different from Sunday, when Baghdad's streets were electric with news of the arrest. Radios played festive music, drivers honked their horns and passengers on buses and trucks chanted “They got Saddam, they got Saddam,” as word of the former dictator’s capture spread from car to car and shop to shop.

U.S. troops stationed around the country cheered when they heard the news and held back as Iraqis fired their guns in the air. Iraqi journalists gave U.S. officials a standing ovation and cheered wildly when video of a captured Saddam was shown during a news conference announcing the arrest.

A Shiite cleric named Azhad al-Faili thanked the Almighty “for ridding the world of the tyrant.”

Ayet Bassem, who wore the traditional black cloak of religious Muslim women, was overcome with a sense of relief.

“Things will be better for my son,” she said, clutching the hand of six-year-old Zenalbadin. “My son now has a future.”

Seeking proof
Others remained skeptical, and said they wanted proof that the man in U.S. custody is the real Saddam Hussein.

“I heard the news, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Mohaned al-Hasaji, a 33-year-old who owns a cosmetics shop on Baghdad’s bustling Karada street. “They need to show us that they really have him.”

Outside his shop a paper boy sold copies of Sunday’s edition of Shaheed, or the Witness, a weekly newsmagazine whose cover story was graced with photos of Saddam and a banner headline that asked “Who’s the real Saddam?”

At the Palestine hotel, where foreign journalists and American contract workers are staying, Abil Daoud was sad. “We lost our only hope and now we are stuck with the Americans,” said Daoud, who is employed by U.S. troops as a local security guard. Some called Saddam a “coward” for getting caught. Others were glad he didn’t die a martyr. “He killed my son Mohammed and he tortured his people,” said Halem a-Jassen, 40, as she celebrated in the street Sunday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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