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Snow denies Saddam trial 'scheming'

AP | November 5, 2006
DEB RIECHMANN

WACO, Texas - The White House said Sunday that President Bush is confident the Iraqi government and U.S.-led forces are prepared to deal with a spike in violence following the Saddam Hussein verdict.

Bush recognizes that extremists and other Saddam loyalists might react violently, but the president believes Iraqi leaders and American and Iraqi security forces can keep contain any outbreaks, presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said.

"Today is great day for the Iraqi people and world peace," Bartlett told The Associated Press from Washington.

"Saddam Hussein was one of the most brutal dictators the world has ever seen. President Bush is particularly proud of our men and women in the United States military. Without their sacrifice, today's verdict would have never happened," Bartlett said.

Before leaving his Texas ranch for campaign stops in Nebraska and Kansas, Bush planned to make a statement on Saddam's conviction. The former Iraqi leader was sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single Shiite town. The decision came two days before crucial congressional elections in the U.S.

White House press secretary Tony Snow, with the president in Texas, said the verdict is evidence Iraq is creating an independent judiciary. He said it was "absolutely crazy" to think that the verdict was timed to coincide with the elections.

"I think American voters ought to be heartened by it," Snow said told the AP. "This is getting the Iraqis to stand up on their own. You can't have civil society without rule of law."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the conviction was a "hopeful reminder to all Iraqis that the rule of law can triumph over the rule of fear and that the peaceful pursuit of justice is preferable to the pursuit of vengeance."

"The United States government and the American people applaud those brave Iraqis, whether they be judges, prosecutors, or defense attorneys, who continue to work every day in the name of justice, democracy, and the rule of law for Iraq," Rice said in a statement.

Snow said the verdict will force Saddam loyalists to rethink their strategy.

"It's pretty clear that Saddam is not going to come back to power," Snow said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the verdict brought long deserved justice for Iraqis. But he said Iraq has descended into a civil war and that Iraqis "have traded a dictator for chaos" since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Neither option is acceptable, he said, when U.S. troops who are caught in the middle.

Reid urged Bush "on this day of justice" for Iraqis to explain to Americans how he intends to change course so U.S. troops will have a strategy to complete the mission.

Snow countered Reid's remark with Bush's campaign mantra:

"You've got Democrats out saying it's a failed policy, but they don't have a policy," Snow said.

The top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee said the verdict was just. But Rep. Tom Lantos (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., said in a statement that it must not distract Americans from the more pressing issue: "The need for a change in the direction of our country's policy toward Iraq, both the conduct of the war effort and our pathetic, corruption-stained attempt at reconstruction."

Snow denied that the U.S. had any role in the timing of the verdict, two days before Americans vote in an election widely viewed as a referendum on Bush's Iraq policy. Democrats are poised for large gains, hoping to take control of the House or Senate, or both, in Tuesday's balloting.

"Absolutely crazy," Snow said about allegations that the United States has been scheming and plotting with the Iraqis.

"The Iraqis are doing what they need to do," Snow said. "This is a huge step forward."

Snow said he had not yet talked to Bush was told about the verdict at 6 a.m. EST.

"I did talk to him about it yesterday and he said, `Regardless of the verdict, it's important that the Iraqis have an independent judiciary.'" Rice said the tribunal was professional and impartial, even though one of Saddam's lawyers was assassinated the day after the trial's opening session last year. Two more were later killed and a fourth fled the country.

"The completion of the trial phase is a first step," she said. "Those convicted have the right of appeal."

To House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Saddam "has come long way from torturing and killing his own people to hiding in a hole in the ground to experiencing the very rights he denied his fellow citizens." And Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), the No. 2 Republican leader, said the verdict "is a reminder of the stark difference between genocide and justice."

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