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Iraq: Hussein's Capture Not Likely To End Attacks On U.S., Allied Targets

  • Charles Recknagel

Leaders in Iraq and the United States are calling the capture of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a turning point in their efforts to reestablish security in the country. But at the same time, many stress that Hussein appeared disoriented when caught, the result of being on the run for months. That makes it unclear to what extent Hussein led or inspired guerrillas fighting U.S. forces and to what extent they operate independently of him.

Prague, 15 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As images of a captured Saddam Hussein reveal a disheveled, dispirited and, apparently, defeated man, many U.S. and Iraqi leaders are calling on Iraqi insurgents to now admit defeat, too.

U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday that Hussein's arrest was crucial to building a new Iraq and that it marked the "end of the road" for anyone hoping to restore the former regime to power.

"The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq. It marks the end of the road for him and for all who bullied and killed in his name," Bush said.

Many Iraqi political leaders also said the capture of Hussein could be a turning point for efforts to re-establish security in the country.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said yesterday in Paris that Hussein is an inspiration to insurgents and that his arrest and ultimate trial will deprive the guerillas of a cause for which to fight.

"I believe strongly that this will have a dramatic demoralizing effect on Saddam's supporters and remnants because it will deprive them of this ideological inspiration. Saddam's survival still was striking fear at the hearts and minds of many Iraqis who were unable to come out and to speak out or to participate actively in the reconstruction of their country," Zebari said.

But even as many leaders underline the psychological blow that Hussein's capture delivers to Iraqi insurgents, there may be little reason to expect it will put an end to ongoing attacks on U.S. and allied targets.

U.S. Major General Ray Odierno told reporters that Hussein appeared "very disorientated" when he was apprehended by U.S. troops in a night raid on 13 December. He was apparently not carrying a mobile telephone or any other electronic means of communications. The former Iraqi leader, armed with a pistol, surrendered without firing a shot after he was found hiding in a small dark pit behind a farm building in the village of Al-Dawr near his home town of Tikrit.

U.S. military officials say that Hussein, who had been on the run for months, had previously eluded detection by moving between some 30 hiding places, sometimes at intervals of just several hours. Washington had offered a bounty of $25 million for any information about his whereabouts that led to his capture.

The fact that Hussein appears to have been frequently on the move makes it unclear to what extent he may have been able to contribute to the increasingly organized insurgency against U.S. forces and Iraqi authorities. More Americans have died in the insurgency than during the March/April war to topple Hussein, and scores of Iraqi police have been killed in bombings. Attacks on two Baghdad-area police stations today killed at least 10 people.

Jonathan Stevenson, a counterterrorism specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says that the circumstances of Hussein's capture strongly suggest that he had no direct role in commanding or controlling the anti-U.S. operations

"[From] the circumstances in which he was captured, it was pretty clear that he did not have any command control over the insurgency, which suggests that there are others who have picked up the mantle in terms of operational leadership," Stevenson said.

"The people who initiated the insurgency, many of them, were probably Saddam loyalists. But there may well be some who have a broader allegiance to the [former ruling] Ba'athist party and therefore may not view Saddam's demise as necessarily marking the futility of their enterprise," Stevenson said.

The analyst also says that the insurgency in Iraq appears to have two strands. One is composed of loyalists of the former regime. The other is made up of Islamic militants, many from outside Iraq, who are intent on attacking U.S. forces as part of a larger war with America. Stevenson says these Islamic "Jihadists" may profit from Hussein's arrest to assume a larger role in motivating the insurgency.

"Even if Saddam's capture draws a lot of the momentum away from the indigenous Iraqi initiative, to the extent that [regime loyalists] are the ones driving the insurgency, it may be that foreign Jihadists will view this as essentially an opportunity to pick up the banner," Stevenson said.

American officials also have acknowledged that capturing Hussein may not end the violence in Iraq -- though they expect it to substantially discourage the insurgency. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice summed up the future security situation this way in remarks yesterday.

"This is a fight that will go on. We do expect that violence will continue. We do expect that those who will clearly lose their privileges and who have terrorized their fellow Iraqi citizens will continue to try to terrorize their fellow Iraqi citizens," Rice said.

U.S. President Bush warned while commenting on Hussein's capture that Washington still faces what he termed attacks by terrorists "who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East."