IRAQ: Saddam’s Capture

February 2, 2005

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What are the effects of Saddam Hussein’s capture?

It’s uncertain what the lasting effects will be. In the short term, the December 13 arrest of Iraq’s former dictator, a key goal of U.S. troops and occupation authorities, neutralizes any role Saddam might have had in organizing resistance attacks and plotting his return to power. The psychological fallout may be significant: Iraqis will no longer fear— or, in some cases, expect— a Saddam comeback. The capture also boosts the spirit of American troops in Iraq and could undermine the resolve of resistance fighters. In domestic political terms, President Bush is receiving widespread credit for the capture.

Are there any signs it has affected the insurgency?

No. But U.S. officials have warned that they believe attacks will continue, at least in the near future. Some experts are expecting a short-term spike in attacks; on December 15, two suicide bombers exploded cars outside Iraqi police stations, killing at least six people and wounding 22. Over time, however, U.S. officials hope that Saddam’s capture will deflate the morale of remaining loyalists and encourage Iraqis to provide intelligence that will help the coalition root out the rest of the insurgents.

Why might there be a short-term rise in attacks?

Saddam loyalists might mount retaliatory attacks. In addition, the insurgency campaign includes many groups— not only Saddam supporters and former members of his Baath Party. Shadowy, radical Islamic cells, supplemented by foreign jihadists, are among those attacking U.S. forces, and these organizations are expected to continue their fight, experts say. "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq," President Bush said in his December 14 address after Saddam’s capture. "We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East."

Was Saddam running the insurgency?

Initial reports suggest his role in directing the insurgency was limited. There were no cellular telephones, radios, or other communication devices found with him, and his appearance indicated to some experts that he was more focused on hiding out than actively commanding resistance fighters. "I believe he was there more for moral support," said Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, the unit whose troops captured Saddam. "I don’t believe he was coordinating the effort because I don’t believe there’s any national coordination." Time magazine reported, however, that Saddam was found with a briefcase containing minutes from a Baghdad meeting of resistance leaders, and U.S. officials say that information has already led to additional arrests.

Is it significant that Saddam had no communication gear?

Not necessarily. He could have communicated with resistance cells through messengers. Some say the fact that he was found with $750,000 in cash is significant. "One of the things that the Saddam Hussein family and his clique of intimates were doing is they were providing money to people to go out and engage in acts against the coalition and against the Iraqi people. So that’s ended, and that’s a good thing," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said.

How many foreign jihadists appear to be in Iraq?

It’s unclear, but U.S. officials have estimated a few hundred such fighters have moved into Iraq to supplement the efforts of Iraqi Islamists fighting coalition forces. Newsweek has reported that al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan may have made a strategic decision to shift more resources to battling U.S. forces in Iraq, and The New York Times has reported on a network that is channelingjihadists to Iraq from Europe. The bulk of the insurgency fighters, however, appear to be Iraqis, many experts say.

How have the Iraqi people reacted to Saddam’s arrest?

Thousands took to the streets waving flags, dancing, and shooting off bursts of celebratory gunfire. The vast majority of Iraqis— especially in Iraq’s repressed Shiite majority and Kurdish minority— are believed to be relieved and elated by Saddam’s capture, experts say. Because of widespread fear that the former dictator could return, U.S. officials and some experts predict that Saddam’s capture will encourage more Iraqis to work with the coalition to secure and rebuild Iraq.

Did all Iraqis react positively?

No. Press reports indicate that the mood is far darker in the predominately Sunni towns and neighborhoods that benefited the most from Saddam’s regime. In Tikrit, near where Saddam was found, police on December 15 broke up a pro-Saddam protest by hundreds of university students who chanted, "With our blood and with our souls, we will defend you, Saddam." One storekeeper in a Sunni district in Baghdad told The New York Times, "We Iraqis are 10 million Saddams and we will drive the Americans out, with or without our leader." Though they represent just 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, Sunnis as a whole were favored by Saddam--a fellow Sunni--and dominated the economy and politics under his rule.

How did the capture come about?

In the last month, U.S. officials had used updated intelligence to capture and interrogate people who could be hiding Saddam, including bodyguards, former palace workers, and tribal leaders. According to press reports, Saddam’s capture came after the arrest and interrogation of one of his clan members on December 12, who revealed under questioning the location the farmhouse outside Tikrit where Saddam was hiding. Under a new intelligence-sharing program in Baghdad, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers, military Special Operations teams, and the Defense Intelligence Agency all worked together— along with some 600 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division— to pull off the capture.

What impact does Saddam’s capture have on intelligence gathering?

It’s unclear, experts say. Saddam could be a priceless intelligence resource. Press reports indicate that so far he has not cooperated with his interrogators. If he were compelled to talk, and if interrogators thought his accounts were credible, Saddam could give information about the resistance, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, or his alleged connection to al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Will Saddam’s capture affect the hunt for WMD?

If he talks frankly to interrogators about his chemical and biological weapons program— for example, admitting to the existence of suspected "seed stocks" for biological weapons in Iraq or elsewhere— guides them to weapons stockpiles, or sheds light on his nuclear ambitions, his capture could confirm the administration’s claims that Iraq had WMD and intended to use them.

Will his capture speed the arrest of other regime loyalists?

Again, it depends on the results of the interrogation. Saddam may provide information on the whereabouts of other fugitive members of his regime. Other Iraqis may now be emboldened to come forward with similar intelligence. Of the 55 top members of Saddam’s regime— called High Value Targets by U.S. forces— 13 remain free. At the top of the U.S. hit list is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a close Saddam aide who U.S. officials say may be directly organizing resistance.

What’s the impact on U.S. intelligence agencies?

The capture provides a kind of vindication after a series of setbacks that had threatened the credibility of the intelligence agencies, some experts say. The CIA and other intelligence agencies have been criticized for failing to forecast and prevent the September 11 attacks; overestimating the threat Iraq’s WMD program posed; and failing to capture Osama bin Laden or Saddam, despite massive manhunts and multimillion-dollar rewards. President Bush, in his December 14 speech, praised "the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator’s footprints in a vast country."

How will the arrest affect the United States’ relations with its allies?

It may cause relations to warm. Even world leaders who had opposed the war celebrated the capture of a brutal dictator and expressed hopes that it would mark the beginning of a new phase of stability in Iraq and the region. The leaders of France and Germany, strong opponents of the war in Iraq, put aside recent animosity over an administration decision to bar non-coalition countries from Iraq reconstruction contracts and praised the United States. The arrest "opens up the possibility of turning the page on some of the damage" of the past, says Lee Feinstein, acting director of the Council on Foreign Relations Washington program. "Particularly if the United States decides to internationalize the prosecution of Saddam— if it gives a clear role to the United Nations and documents Saddam’s crimes for the world— it could bring European countries back into the process."

Will it assist efforts to internationalize the occupation?

Possibly, experts say, if the administration can use current international support to increase other countries’ willingness to contribute to the Iraq reconstruction efforts. "It gives us another opportunity to, in [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair’s words, ’reach out and reconcile’ with our European allies," says Lawrence J. Korb, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He says much depends on U.S. willingness to give our allies something they want in exchange for their help on Iraq reconstruction and debt relief: for example, installing a United Nations administrator to help oversee the election process after the Coalition Provisional Authority pulls out in June 2004.

What is the domestic political fallout?

"It’s very definitely a big boost" for Bush, Korb says. "Catching Saddam makes it much more difficult to criticize the president [and] splits the Democratic opposition." Others say it’s too soon to tell--and the election is too far away. "Events tend to color how we view the past," says James M. Lindsay, vice president, Maurice R. Greenberg chair, and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If Iraq is going well next year, the president’s a hero. If it’s going badly, he’ll get shellacked by his critics."

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