Since an informant led U.S. forces to the house where Saddam Hussein's sons were hiding, there have been reports that Iraqis are becoming increasingly cooperative with Americans. RFE/RL examines whether Iraqis have truly accepted the occupation forces, and whether anyone should be optimistic about finding Hussein and his suspected weapons of mass destruction.
Washington, 4 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has lately become more cautious in its statements about finding deposed President Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction.
The administration has been besieged by questions about why the weapons have not been found, and embarrassed by Bush's assertion in January -- since discredited -- that British intelligence had learned Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.
Bush is even showing only muted optimism about eventually catching the deposed Iraqi leader himself. At a White House news conference on 30 July -- more than a week after Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed during a firefight in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul -- Bush was asked about the prospect of catching Hussein.
The president, who usually displays great confidence about U.S. operations, replied: "I don't know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein. Closer than we were yesterday, I guess. All I know is that we're on the hunt."
At the same time, however, there have been reports that Iraqis have been cooperating more with U.S. forces. The most prominent example has been the unidentified informant who will be paid a $30 million reward for leading the Americans to Hussein's sons. And a $25 million reward is still being offered for helping track down Hussein himself.
More recently, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's weapons consultant, David Kay, said Iraqi scientists who were involved in Hussein's weapons programs are helping Americans find evidence of the weapons.
Kay testified in private before two U.S. Senate committees on 31 July. Speaking to reporters after the hearings, he said: "We are gaining the cooperation, the active cooperation, of Iraqis who were involved in that [weapons of mass destruction] program. We are, as we speak, involved in sensitive exploitation of [suspected weapons] sites that we are being led to by Iraqis. There is solid evidence being produced. We do not intend to expose this evidence until we have full confidence that it is solid proof."
Despite such statements, John Wolfstahl, a former nonproliferation official with the U.S. Energy Department, cautions against optimism about Iraqi cooperation with U.S. forces and weapons hunters. Wolfstahl is now the deputy director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private policy research center in Washington.
Wolfstahl told RFE/RL that there may be many Iraqis who are confident -- especially after the deaths of Qusay and Uday Hussein -- that Hussein will never again rule their country, and therefore may be counted on to help establish a new Iraq.
"It's important to keep in mind that, unlike what we had been led to believe by the [Bush] administration, Americans are not universally viewed as liberators and as a positive force. Many Iraqis view them as infidels and outsiders and occupiers," Wolfstahl said.
Trust aside, Wolfstahl says the Iraqi idea of justice is unlike what Westerners have become accustomed to. He pointed to an article printed on 1 August in "The Washington Post" daily about an Iraqi man who, along with one of his sons, killed another son because he had collaborated with coalition troops.
Wolfstahl says "tribal justice," as he calls it, is deeply ingrained in Arab and Muslim culture, and is unlikely to be overcome by the pleadings of Americans looking for Hussein and his weapons.
"Tribal justice is not [only] an Iraqi phenomenon, it is a broader Islamic/Arab phenomenon. It's been a reality for hundreds of years, and it affects not just cooperation with the Americans, but it affects all sorts of family-social issues," Wolfstahl said. "[It] covers adultery and divorce and payments of debt. So it's a reality and something we need to factor into how we deal with the occupation."
Danielle Pletka disagrees vehemently with this analysis. Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, another Washington think tank. She told RFE/RL that Iraqis for the most part are very much unlike most other Middle Easterners in that they are not tribal.
"The idea that this is a terribly tribal society is false. It's not. It's an urban society. And the allegiances that exist are not to tribe, they are to nation. I think if we underestimate the nationalism of the Iraqis we make a big mistake," Pletka said.
Pletka concedes that there are still many Iraqis who had aligned themselves with Hussein during his rule -- Iraqis who now are working hard to keep the Americans from establishing a secure presence in their country.
But Pletka said these Iraqis have nothing to lose by maintaining their opposition and, little by little, they will die in firefights with coalition forces, or they will be caught, thanks to tips from other Iraqis cooperating with the Americans.
Eventually, Pletka believes, Iraqi scientists and other informants will lead Americans to the weapons, and to Hussein loyalists involved in attacks on U.S. forces.
"As Iraqis have more of a stake in their future, they're going to be more and more upset by people who want to return them to the past," she said.
With each passing day, she said, Iraqis are coming to the realization that their future is with the Americans, not with Hussein.