Britain Wants Saddam Trial In Iraq, Will Accept Death Penalty

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - Britain has joined calls for Saddam Hussein to be tried in a court in Iraq, with Prime Minister Tony Blair hailing a "time of great opportunity" in the country.

"Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people in Iraq," Blair said.

"The shadow of Saddam is finally lifted from the Iraqi people. We give thanks for that, but let this be more than a cause simply for rejoicing. Let it be a moment to reach out and to reconcile," Blair said.

British officials say they won't stand in the way of the former dictator's execution, if that is the punishment meted out by an Iraqi tribunal.

Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the U.K. government is opposed to capital punishment, which is banned across Europe. But Straw said that any final decision would rest with the Iraqi judicial system.

"In the end, the appropriateness of a punishment is a matter for sovereign governments and for the court," Straw said.

Blair later told the House of Commons: "Any trial of Saddam should be by the Iraqi government for the Iraqi people."

The prime minister told lawmakers he is confident that Saddam could be tried using an "independent and fair process."

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said he hoped the capture of the former dictator would eventually lead to fewer terror attacks in the country, though he said the security situation inside the country was still "challenging."

The prime minister has faced condemnation for the failure of coalition troops to find active weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq.

An independent report due to be released by the end of the year is expected to criticize Blair's role in the naming of a government weapons expert who cast doubt on the possibility of Iraq possessing viable WMD programs.

On Sunday, however, the prime minister emphasized the need to rebuild Iraq for the benefit of its citizens and the region.

"Saddam has gone from power. He won't be coming back. That the Iraqi people now know and it is they who will decide his fate," Blair said.

"So now is a time of great opportunity. Let us seize it and use it for the good of the people of Iraq, for the people in the Middle East and for the people of our world," Blair said.

As the news was celebrated, British politicians warned that attacks on coalition forces would continue.

"There are those out there who still want to show that they resent what's happened and will want to keep throwing stuff at the coalition forces," said the prime minister's special representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

"It must be remembered in the euphoria following his capture that his loyalists remain a fanatical band who may not give up their struggle immediately despite his capture," said Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said the capture of Saddam was "truly excellent news."

"We must all hope that this will bring real peace in Iraq very much closer," Howard said.

Despite very public differences over the war, other European leaders welcomed the news of Saddam's capture on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for Jacques Chirac said the French president was "delighted" at the news, while German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sent a message of congratulations to President Bush.

"I hope the capture will help the international community's effort to rebuild and stabilize Iraq," Schroeder said.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who supported the war, said "the moment has arrived for [Saddam] to pay for his crimes."

"Happily, today the main obstacle to peace, freedom and democracy in Iraq has disappeared," Aznar said.

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