Little effect on violence expected

Capture might help intelligence gathering

The Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 15, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The capture of Saddam Hussein won't guarantee an end to the bloody insurgency that has marred the U.S. victory over his regime, officials and analysts said yesterday. Nor, diplomats said, will it ensure cooperation of leaders from Europe and the region in rebuilding Iraq and extricating the United States from a difficult occupation.

One early positive impact in Iraq will be to improve intelligence cooperation with the United States from Iraqis who had held back out of a fear, born of 30 years of tyrannical rule, that Hussein and his brutal henchmen might return to power, said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who has studied insurgencies.

This in turn could provide at least a short-term tactical gain for American forces, by producing the kind of intelligence that is crucial in combating guerrilla campaigns, he said.

"Some of these idiots thought Saddam would be back in power," said Falah Nakib, deputy governor in Salah Aldin province, which includes Tikrit.

"I think some of these guys will not be able to make any more trouble," he said in a telephone interview from Iraq.

`Use it or lose it'

The image of the Iraqi leader being pulled from a hole in the ground and surrendering without a fight struck some Iraqis and other Arabs as the ultimate humiliation and a blemish on Arab honor, according to wire service reports from the region.

However, Krepinevich and others warned that the capture is unlikely to end the violence aimed at U.S. troops, international personnel and those Iraqis, particularly police, who have been cooperating closely with the occupation authorities.

In fact, there may be at least a temporary "use it or lose it" surge in violence as insurgents hasten to carry out previously laid plans out of a fear of imminent discovery, Krepinevich said.

Over a longer term, Krepinevich and others noted, the underlying fear among Hussein's fellow Sunni Muslims in Iraq - that their own voice in the future of Iraq will be drowned out by a long-oppressed Shiite majority with scores to settle - will cause the violent insurgency to continue.

"I don't think they see an alternative to that fight," Krepinevich said. "This is a marker on the path to victory, but it's not the end of the road."

A senior U.S. official, commenting on the impact outside Iraq, said the capture will give added credibility to the vow by President Bush and other American officials that the United States will stay the course in postwar Iraq.

"It does remind people that the U.S. is willing to do what has to be done, that the U.S. is going to make this work. We are not going to cut and run," the official said.

The failure by U.S. forces to subdue the insurgents had led to growing speculation around the world - and even within the Bush administration - that the president was anxious for an "exit strategy" before next year's election.

But yesterday's capture was interpreted by some as a major turning point for the United States - not only in Iraq but also in America's overall war on terrorism, with officials of the struggling Afghanistan government voicing new optimism that the United States might now succeed in capturing al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding out on the Afghan border with Pakistan.

U.S. officials hope that questioning of Hussein, now that he is in custody, will shed light on a major issue left hanging since the war began last March, and one that has undercut Bush's credibility worldwide - the whereabouts of any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq might have produced.

A search under way almost since Bush launched the invasion has failed to turn up any evidence of actual weapons, although it has produced some clues about Iraq's effort to maintain the capacity to renew its weapons programs.

But Time magazine, quoting an official familiar with the initial interrogation of Hussein, reported on its Web site yesterday that the captured leader was refusing to cooperate on weapons and other subjects.

The enhanced American standing as a result of the capture is likely to give a boost to the efforts beginning this week by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who will try to persuade world leaders to forgive or restructure the $120 billion in official debt that threatens to cripple Iraq's economic recovery.

Baker is due to meet tomorrow with French President Jacques Chirac and later in the week with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"He can go out now and say, `This will succeed. Iraqis will get a new government, and here's what you and the rest of the world can do to help: relieve the burden of debt,'" the U.S. official said.

In advance of Baker's mission, both Chirac and Schroeder publicly congratulated the United States, and Schroeder sent a letter to Bush describing his "great joy" at Hussein's capture. Separately, their foreign ministers were on the phone yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

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