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Iraq: What's Next

While the White House basks in Saddam's arrest, there is little evidence that it will affect either the ongoing battle against terrorism or Bush's own credibility gap.
 
 
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The capture of Saddam Hussein was celebrated throughout the world over the weekend. President Bush praised the military operation that apprehended the former Iraqi dictator, saying "the success of the mission is a tribute to our men and women now serving in Iraq" and "on the superb work of intelligence analysts." Similarly, CNN reports, "Leaders divided over the war in Iraq have joined members of the coalition to celebrate the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein."

But even as Bush's speech was filled with optimism, the Boston Herald notes that the President "warned unrest in Iraq isn't over" taking "great care not to gloat and trying to keep expectations in check by warning that violence and unrest will continue in Iraq." Even after news of Saddam's capture had spread throughout the country, 20 people were killed and 32 wounded by a car bomb outside an Iraqi police station west of Baghdad.

U.S. Administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer said "with the arrest of Saddam Hussein, there is a new opportunity." And as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations write in Newsday, yesterday's extraordinary events "represent an opportunity to get Iraq right by ending the American occupation quickly and bringing the international community in to help build a stable, secure, and representative Iraq."

Former National Security Council adviser Kenneth Pollack says, "This does mark the closing of an important chapter in Iraqi history, but so far the United States has not been able to open a new chapter by constituting an Iraqi political authority considered legitimate by Iraqis that is representative of their views and competent to rule the country."

Reuters reports, "joy at the capture of Saddam Hussein has given way to resentment towards Washington as Iraqis confront afresh the bloodshed, shortages and soaring prices of life under U.S. occupation." While "many were ecstatic to see Saddam in the dock and hoped he would answer for his deeds," some "said they would not rush to thank America -- in their eyes the source of their problems since a U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam in April."

AFP reports Arabs throughout the world "shared little of the world's joy over Saddam Hussein's capture, expressing hope only that US troops may soon end their occupation of Iraq."

Reuters reports that while "Saddam may have been seen as a dictator who oppressed his people, many also saw him as the only Arab leader who stood up to the United States." As one member of Jordan's parliament said, "It is bad news. To us, Saddam was a symbol of defiance to the U.S. plans in the region. And we support any person who stands in the face of the American dominance."

It is a troubling sentiment that has permeated the Muslim world. As American journalist Andrew Finkel writes from Istanbul, "people now hold the American invasion of Iraq responsible for instigating a contagion of resentment that has spread their way. They see Washington as a bee-stung giant, thrashing about with reckless disregard for the damage it does."

The NYT reports the news of Saddam's capture "prompts Americans to wonder what's next?" Across the nation, Saddam's capture "seemed to change few peoples' minds about Iraq." A new ABC/WP poll shows "Americans greeted the news of Saddam Hussein's capture with measured optimism while acknowledging the breadth of the challenges still facing the United States in Iraq." While roughly 2 in 3 respondents said Hussein's capture would be at least somewhat helpful in ending attacks on U.S. troops, "9 in 10 Americans said big challenges still face the United States in Iraq, with fewer than 1 in 10 saying Hussein's capture would resolve the hurdles facing U.S. troops."

AP reports, " Gen. Richardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said he believed the insurgency against the American occupation would continue despite the capture of former leader Saddam Hussein." He "cautioned against expecting the insurgency - which many said found its direction and inspiration in Saddam's continued freedom - would end quickly." In fact, the LA Times reports, "U.S. Officials and Iraqis agree that the conflict will get worse" before it gets better. The story notes, "No one anticipates anything but fiercer combat until at least next summer, when the U.S.-led coalition is scheduled to hand over control of Iraq to an interim government."

Administration officials have said for weeks that the capture of Saddam, while important, will not solve the complex situation in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on 5/27/03 "the fact is that Saddam Hussein may or may not be alive [but ] he clearly is not running Iraq. So, the fact that he is not locatable at the moment if he is alive is too bad but it certainly isn't determinative" of whether he is controlling the insurgency. Rumsfeld reiterated that position on 60 Minutes last night. When asked whether "the capture of Saddam Hussein now means Mission Accomplished?" he replied, "Well, certainly not."

Similarly, the NYT reported last week that Gen. Sanchez "said that even if American forces captured or killed Saddam Hussein, that would not extinguish the resolve of the guerrilla fighters." Part of the reason Saddam's capture might not have as wide an impact as hoped is because not all of the insurgents were aligned with Saddam in the first place. A recent Congressional Research Service report "lists 15 separate groups battling US-led forces in Iraq, from Hussein loyalists to Al Qaeda operatives."

AP reports, "Afghan officials hailed the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, saying Sunday the arrest might blunt the growing insurgency here. They also speculated Saddam's capture after seven months on the run could make it easier to catch the world's other top fugitive, al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden." But as Knight-Ridder reports, terrorism experts "say Saddam Hussein's capture is unlikely to prompt U.S. officials to intensify their search for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan."

Specifically, the "CIA and Pentagon are unlikely to return to Afghanistan the scores of U.S. commandos and intelligence agents that had been seeking bin Laden before they were shifted to Iraq." Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace dispels the notion of a connection between Saddam's capture and other challenges: "Saddam's capture may decrease attacks in Iraq by Baathists but it is largely irrelevant to the larger war against terrorism. Saddam means nothing to al-Qaeda and all the al-Qaeda-like forces."

The NYT reports that while the world celebrates Saddam's capture, many "would have been more impressed had soldiers found something different in the hole where Mr. Hussein was hiding: chemical or biological weapons." Just this weekend the WP reported, "U.N. weapons inspectors remain skeptical of the Bush administration's prewar statements that Saddam Hussein had seriously breached U.N. resolutions barring chemical and biological weapons, and that such Iraqi weapons programs posed an imminent threat."

Nonetheless, the White House issued "a year-end report that said the invasion of Iraq had produced 'clear evidence of Saddam's illegal weapons program.'" The reference to an "illegal weapons program" includes "a tacit acknowledgment that no actual weapons of mass destruction have been found, eight months after President Saddam Hussein's government collapsed."

Former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay, who is heading the CIA-led search, told Congress in an interim report in October that he had found no evidence that Hussein took steps to produce a nuclear weapon after the U.N. withdrew inspectors in 1998."

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