Ever since he began his corpse-strewn political career, Saddam Hussein has been a tireless optimist. From way back in 1966, fleeing prison after an attempted rebellion against the ruler at the time, the young Saddam went out to face the police with his hands up. He knew then that he would live to fight in other battles, and indeed, in time, he became president. This should be understood with reference to his talk yesterday to those ruling Iraq, who came to see him. Saddam believes that he will yet be president of Iraq.

And this has been Saddam’s problem over the years. He has a tendency to adopt the most optimistic interpretation of reality. He didn’t believe that the Americans would attack him in 1991, and was thus the only leader who dared to rejoice when the Americans mourned the Twin Towers disaster. And in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, there were not many people who were willing to endanger their lives by suggesting a more realistic interpretation to him.

Before handing him over to an Iraqi court, the Americans have a good chance of getting a lot of useful information out of him. Flattering his great ego will enable experienced investigators to do this relatively easily. And they should do it quickly, because the pressure to put him on trial will increase. And the Americans would do well were they to insist that the panel judging the deposed tyrant include foreign judges, giving the process another aspect of international legitimacy.

In the short term, at least in the next month, there will be, in fact, an increase in Iraq in the fighting against the coalition forces. The Americans humiliated Saddam very much and showed him on television at his most wretched. The Sunni public, which up until now lived mainly with a feeling of fear of what it can expect after losing its dominance to the Shiite majority, today feels utterly humiliated. Many will want to avenge this strike to regain their honor, in a society where honor plays a major role.

The feelings of these Sunnis, who are the ruling elite due to their natural right which was taken from them after the regime fell-will be sharpened in the wake of Saddam’s arrest. That is why the first order for the Americans now is to try to assuage the feelings of the large Sunni minority and to ensure them their rights in the new Iraq.

With the highest card in the deck out of the game, the American mission of building a stable regime in a problematic society is now at center stage. A dictatorship by the Shiite majority is no better than one by the Sunni minority, and the Americans must establish a delicate system of balances which will enable the Iraqis to live in stability with themselves.

This article ran in Maariv on December 14th, 2003