The progression from the capture of Baghdad’s outlying Saddam International Airport on 3 April to control over the whole city was swifter than even the invading forces expected. Resistance from elite Republican Guard units failed to materialise to the degree feared and by 7 April US marines were relaxing in Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace. Its former resident, however, continued to elude the coalition forces, despite another focused strike against him. A restaurant in downtown Baghdad, where intelligence suggested Saddam was dining with his sons, was bombed on 8 April, but no evidence of the raid’s success was found. ‘I don’t know whether he survived,’ said US President Bush, in Belfast for talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. ‘The only thing I know is he’s losing power.’
With this thought in mind, the talks between the two leaders focused on the shape of the peace, with the role of the UN at the top of the agenda. Their concluding statement was carefully worded. ‘The interim authority will be established first and foremost by the Iraqi people with the help of the members of the coalition and working with the secretary-general of the United Nations.’
Other international leaders queued up to call for a central UN role in the political settlement, rather than solely in the provision of humanitarian aid. They also called for a brief period of coalition control. ‘As soon as possible, after the necessary phase of securing the country, Iraq should reassume its full sovereignty in a stabilised region,’ said French President Jacques Chirac after the victory in Baghdad. Despite his fierce opposition to war, Chirac welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the ‘rediscovered liberty’ of the Iraqi people.
Arab reaction to the demise of the Iraqi leader was tempered by concerns for the future. An editorial in Saudi Arabia’s English-language daily, Arab News, warned the Iraqi people ‘not to settle for second best, namely being ruled by a quasi-democratic leadership propped up by the US administration, which is in itself propped up by those greedy for Iraq’s oil’. On Syrian national television, there was no footage shown of joyful Iraqis tearing down Saddam’s statue. Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily remarked on the potential impact of the war on the wider region: ‘With their pride, their future, their ruling systems and their economies, the Arabs will pay the price of this war.’