How much will it matter?
Saddam Hussein's capture may not end attacks by insurgents. But for a day, Iraqis celebrate.
BAGHDAD — The streets of Baghdad erupted with celebratory gunfire Sunday as news of Saddam Hussein's capture spread, marking the end of an eight-month manhunt - and what some Iraqis are calling the true beginning of the nation's renaissance.
Jubilant Iraqis honked car horns, waved flags, and gathered on the streets. "This is a birthday for all 25 million Iraqis. We have suffered terribly under Saddam Hussein but now the country is complete," said Hadi Jassem, one of several Shiite marchers brandishing flags.
Coalition officials and senior Iraqis hail the capture as removing a deep-rooted fear among many Iraqis that the man who ruled here for 24 years could one day return to power. It's also a major blow to the morale of Baathists in the Iraqi insurgency. But military analysts warn this isn't yet the end of the attacks on US troops and its allies.
"This is a huge morale boost for the US and coalition and does lop the head off the Fedayeen and others who work in Saddam's name," says Paul Beaver, a British military analyst, adding that there are other groups at work. "We won't see an end to the violence. But this could be the beginning of the end."
Hussein may provide some intelligence about his role and that of the other leaders of the insurgency campaign, including Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, once vice chairman of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council and Hussein's closest confidant.
"If we get intel from him, it will certainly give a boost to rounding up the die-hards, and stemming the funding," says Phebe Marr, an Iraq expert and former US government analyst. But the arrest won't end the resistance: "It's not a magic wand. The insurgency now is more broadly grounded."
It may be too soon to judge the impact of the capture on the resistance, since the exact makeup remains unknown. A recent Congressional Research Service report lists 15 separate groups battling US-led forces in Iraq, from Hussein loyalists to Al Qaeda operatives.
"The anecdotal evidence of those who have actually met them [the insurgents] suggests that the resistance is self-generating," and was barely directed by the ousted Iraqi leader, says Tim Ripley, at the Center for Defense and International Security Studies at Britain's University of Lancaster. "It doesn't paint a picture of them worshiping Saddam Hussein every day."
Most of the insurgents are Sunni Islamists, foreign fighters, and ordinary Iraqis who simply have tired of the United States-led occupation, say analysts.
Larry Seaquist, retired US Navy warship captain and Pentagon strategist, says that the US-led coalition may find that the security challenge will get harder in the days ahead. "Now that Saddam is in custody, there is no one to blame for the problems in establishing security and restoring the economic infrastructure. Thus the frustration with the Americans - and the concomitant attacks on them - may well escalate."
Michael O'Hanlon, defense expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says: "On a scale of 1 to 10, as single events go, this is close to a 10 in importance - but single events don't win counterinsurgencies or hearts and minds."
Indeed, almost forgotten amid the jubilation and back-slapping over Hussein's capture was a suspected suicide car-bomb attack hours earlier against a police station in Khaldiyeh, 50 miles west of Baghdad, in which at least 17 Iraqis were killed and another 33 wounded. Sunday, a gasoline truck exploded in central Baghdad and an American soldier also was killed while attempting to defuse a roadside bomb.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite member of Iraq's interim Governing Council, his voice filled with emotion, says, "This is really a great day for all Iraqis." He predicts the insurgency will cease. "Absolutely this is the end of it. There is no doubt in my mind. This is very demoralizing and devastating for them [the insurgents]."
But outside Iraq, Arab leaders generally do not believe the capture of Hussein will bring an end to the violence, says Hisham Yusuf, spokesman for Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
"We believe that the resistance in Iraq is a result of something different [from one organized by Saddam]. Some of them are from the former regime. But some are ordinary Iraqis who want to see an end to the occupation. The Iraqi situation will improve only when the Iraqi people are given a clear timetable for the end of occupation," he says.
The US military also is signaling caution at overly optimistic expectations.
"We do not expect at this point that we will have a complete elimination of those attacks," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US military commander in Iraq.
Asked if he expected attacks in revenge for Hussein's capture, General Sanchez said, "I don't know but we're prepared."
Those preparations were in evidence in Baghdad even before news of Hussein's capture had been confirmed. Extra checkpoints manned by Iraqi police were set up around the city and streets closed off by American troops in humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
Sheikh Abbas Rubaie, media chief for Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric based in Najaf, says he expects an immediate backlash, although there would be a reduction in attacks over the long-term.
"In the coming two weeks there will be more attacks because Saddam's supporters are angry," he says. "Saddam used to fund them and as the money runs out, the attacks will stop."
Charles Heyman, editor of the London-based Jane's World Armies, shares Mr. Rubaie's view.
"We should expect a surge of attacks in the next 14 days," he says. "Their message is: 'You may have Saddam, but we're still here.'"
US forces have carried out a number of military operations to stem the insurgency, mainly in Baghdad and the flashpoint "Sunni triangle," an area to the west and north of the capital that has witnessed the bulk of anticoalition attacks.
The number of attacks have declined from a peak of more than 50 a day in early November to around 20 a day, US officials say. But the guerrillas have merely switched tactics, moving to fresh areas in the north and south and shifting targets toward foreigners and Iraqis cooperating with the coalition.
While most Iraqis celebrated Hussein's capture, not everyone was happy.
"I reject it," says Qays Ibrahim, waiting in a three-mile gas-station queue. "Saddam never did me any harm and we didn't have to wait like this for gas."
Another man, who gave his name as Abu Ahmed, says that the insurgency will continue as long as American troops are in Iraq. "Even if a new Iraqi government is formed, the Americans will still be here," he says. "All Iraqis, whatever their sect, reject occupation. The troubles will continue."
• Contributing to this report: Staff writers Scott Peterson in Tehran, Brad Knickerbocker in Ashland, Ore., and correspondents Fred Weir in Moscow and Gretchen Peters in Cairo.