December 14, 2003 | Townhall

Saddam’s Capture is a Multifaceted Victory

Just as it was beginning to appear that Iraq's illusive former despot would evade US forces indefinitely, the remarkably quiet capture of the Iraqi “Ace of Spades” in a tiny hole in the ground near Tikrit has provided the US and free Iraqis a multifaceted victory. While some may downplay its importance this event should significantly alter the political and military situation on the ground in Iraq as well as the political situation in the US and internationally.

Saddam's capture is first and foremost a psychological body blow to the Sunni insurgency. The assortment of former Ba'ath party members, Saddam loyalists and Fedayeen guerillas were no doubt emboldened by the Coalition's inability to find their leader. The longer he remained at large the greater the insurgent's ability to intimidate the population and recruit new members to serve as cannon fodder for their cause.

While there is no evidence yet that Saddam was directly orchestrating specific attacks it is clear that he was providing much needed moral and perhaps financial support. Even the remote possibility of a resurgence of the former regime gave the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq a rallying cry.

Clearly these “dead-enders” as the US military calls them can no longer promise the tyrant's return and may now need to find new slogans to replace “we will give our lives and blood for Saddam.” So far these thugs have been unable to provide any other vision for Iraq. While expelling US “occupation” forces even without Saddam may motivate some insurgents and foreign terrorists, this goal will also lose import as we near the political transition to Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004.

Following the recent example last week where upwards of 20,000 Iraqis demonstrated nationwide against terrorism, Iraqi civilians should now be more encouraged to openly express support for US efforts to combat the guerillas.

Insurgents vulnerable

While some have speculated that Saddam had actually been held hostage these past few weeks by former confidants to claim the $25 million reward, the fact that he was apparently captured by US forces using intelligence gleaned from, among other places, interrogations of family members close to him should cause paranoia in the insurgent ranks. 

If we can get him, what does that say about our ability to get any of them? Their cell structure and network is obviously not impenetrable and may be increasingly vulnerable to greatly improving US intelligence efforts.

And what will Saddam say under interrogation? His willingness to surrender without a fight should be discouraging to his supporters. The remaining few of the Iraqi “55 most wanted,” especially Saddam's top deputy, General Izzat Ibrahim Al-Durri (the man many believe is directly orchestrating much of the insurgency), may soon be caught or killed.

Saddam's capture could be an intelligence boon in other ways too. As others come forward Coalition intelligence may now be able to track down more of the millions of dollars stolen from the Iraqi treasury and used to finance the insurgency. Cutting off or curtailing those money streams is a key to neutralizing the guerillas. We may also gain insights about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism.

The ability of US forces to successfully launch a major surprise operation near Saddam's home town without any opposition also says a great deal about the improving military situation on the ground. The Army's 4th Infantry Division has gotten increasingly familiar with the terrain, guerilla infrastructure and local politics in the Sunni triangle. In November the number of attacks against Coalition forces, though deadlier and more effective, had already declined 30 percent.

Though some military analysts expect a short term retaliatory spike in guerilla attacks, the long term military prospects seem promising for the Coalition.

The next step is to try Saddam Hussein and his top henchmen for crimes against humanity and genocide. While a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal may be the best the option, debate about whether Saddam's trial should be run by Iraqis, the Coalition Provisional Authority or an international court has already begun. But publicly exposing the regime's murderous brutality in whatever official venue is chosen can only highlight the legitimacy of the Iraq war.
While many challenges remain in Iraq, focusing on Saddam's heinous crimes in coming months as the country moves toward democracy and continues recovering should provide a needed counterpoint to the war's misguided critics

Paul Crespo is a former Marine Corps officer and military attaché. He is an editorial contributor for The Miami Herald and an adjunct faculty member of politics at the University of Miami. He is also Senior Fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. This column also appears this week in Tiempos del Mundo, a Latin American weekly.