Belief That Insurgency Will Fade May Be Misplaced

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Thomas E. Ricks and Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 15, 2003

The capture of former president Saddam Hussein was greeted with euphoria at the marble-walled headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority here, but in the towns and villages to the north and west of the capital, where anger at the occupation is most intense, Hussein's arrest may have little impact on the insurgency that has roiled the country in recent months.

In the eight months that Hussein has been on the run, the resistance has gathered a momentum of its own, driven primarily by local financiers and ringleaders. Although gloating crowds often glorify Hussein after attacks on U.S. forces, recent interviews across the most restive parts of Iraq suggest that motivation for the insurgency extends well beyond loyalty to the former leader.

In rhetorical terms at least, the message of those fighters and their supporters has appealed more to nationalism and religion than to loyalty to Hussein.

"We are not fighting for Saddam," said Ahmed Jassim, a religious student in the flash-point city of Fallujah, as he cheered an attack on a U.S. convoy recently. "We are fighting for our country, for our honor, for Islam. We are not doing this for Saddam."

U.S. military officials said Hussein's capture would probably not spell an immediate end to the fighting and could result in a short-term increase in attacks, if Hussein loyalists lash back. "We do not expect at this point in time that we will have a complete elimination of those attacks," Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, said at a news conference on Sunday.

But U.S. commanders across the country expressed confidence that over time, the capture would cripple resistance activity. Army officers said they think the seizure of Hussein also might convince many Iraqis who have so far not supported the occupation that history is on the side of the Americans and their allies.

"The capture of Saddam Hussein will have a tremendous negative impact on the Baathist insurgency, and it is all good news for us and the future of Iraq," Lt. Col. Henry Arnold, a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division who is based near the Syrian border, said Sunday. "The Wicked Witch is dead."

"I think this puts a nail in the coffin of hopes that the Baath Party could ever regain control of Iraq," another U.S. commander said. "There is no longer any central figure around whom such a movement could coalesce."

"Without Saddam," he added, "This is no longer a nationalist movement."

For U.S. forces, the most immediate challenge will be to capitalize on information gleaned from Hussein. "The good news is we believe we will gain some actionable intelligence over the next few days, as Saddam is interrogated," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, an assistant commander of the 1st Armored Division, which has responsibility for most of Baghdad. "What he has in his possession, and what he will certainly say to those questioning him, will certainly contribute to connecting some additional dots."

But the commander in charge of the operation to apprehend Hussein, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno of the 4th Infantry Division, said it did not appear that the former president was directly organizing resistance activities from his hide-out. There were no communication devices in either the hole in which he was found or a nearby hut.

Odierno and other top U.S. commanders have long maintained that they have not seen signs of national leadership for the resistance, suggesting that Hussein's apprehension may have a more symbolic than practical impact on the insurgency.

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