AUGUSTA (AP) – Political and military leaders in Maine said Sunday that Saddam Hussein’s capture will convince Iraqis that the former dictator is no longer a threat and give them an opportunity to build a secure future.

On the shorter term, Saturday’s capture of Saddam will not change plans to mobilize National Guard troops from Maine, said the state’s top military official, Maj. Gen. Joseph Tinkham II.

About 650 troops are being called to active duty after Jan. 1, the adjutant general said.

Tinkham and elected officials agreed that over the longer term, the capture will bolster efforts to build a free and secure Iraq.

With Iraqis realizing Saddam will never return to power, intelligence gathering will become easier, enabling occupation forces to identify “those who are creating havoc” in the country, Tinkham said. He believes that many of the insurgents are leftover Baathists who enjoyed power under Saddam.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told CNN that Americans celebrating Saddam’s capture should also keep in mind that Saddam’s supporters aren’t the only ones who have been attacking and menacing coalition troops.

“There are other elements other than Baathists or Saddam loyalists who are out there who seek to bring as much destruction to the American forces and our allies in the coalition as possible,” said Cohen, also a former senator from Maine.

Saddam “was very much on the run, he was a fugitive. He looked both hunted and even haunted as you look at those photographs, the images of him being examined by physicians to determine his state of health,” Cohen told CNN.

Cohen said he believes the Iraqi people “should certainly sit in judgment” of the deposed dictator in a tribunal that might also include legal authorities from other countries.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said that when she was in Iraq in July, she learned how important it was to capture Saddam to reassure Iraqis who feared his eventual return to power.

“The mass grave I saw was powerful testament to Saddam’s brutal and oppressive regime,” said Collins, a Republican.

Fellow Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe agreed that Saddam’s capture will be “a tremendous boost for the Iraqi people” by extending to them opportunities “to replace that which Hussein had destroyed through years of neglect and malfeasance.”

“As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I am particularly pleased that, based on reports, the enhanced use of intelligence played a vital role and I thank the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community,” Snowe said.

Snowe also applauded President Bush “for his steadfastness” and the armed forces “whose courage and deliberate approach resulted in this capture.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, said Saddam’s the building of a new Iraqi government still has many obstacles ahead, but that the capture of Saddam is a start.

“I think the resistance will probably continue, but this will help diminish it, I think,” Allen said. “We’ve got 130,000 people over there getting shot at. And if this helps reduce the violence, that will be very helpful.”

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, said the capture was a victory not only for the Iraqi people, but also “for the troops who have sacrificed so much. Their dedication brought us to where we are today.”

AP-ES-12-14-03 2008EST

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