Isn 't it Great that We Got Saddam Hussein?
"Ladies and gentlemen . . . we got him! "
Boy, will you ever forget where you were the first time you heard Paul Bremer say those words? I know I won 't. You could tell that the atmosphere was electric inside the Coalition Provisional Authority conference room while they were running and rerunning and rerunning those videos of Saddam with his woolly hair and unkempt beard. And all those whooping and bawling Iraqis that kept standing up, interrupting Bremer while he was explaining about capturing the numero uno evildoer . . . well, that really added a note of spontaneity, didn 't it? It was a little puzzling because I didn 't think they allowed Iraqis inside the heavily fortified American green zone in Baghdad. But whatever!
The news reports assured us that the top Bush administration officials were just tickled to death, though of course they didn 't let on in public. Rumsfeld can get downright giddy in some of his public appearances, but it 's a little hard to imagine some of those guys you know, Cheney and Perle and Wolfowitz actually being in a good mood. Do you think they were, like, chucking each other on the chin, slapping backs and patting fannies, and telling traveling Saddam jokes? I don 't know, but I bet it was something like that.
Dan Rather captured it better than anybody. He called the capture of Saddam Hussein "a large breakthrough in the battle for Iraq and a major victory in the war against terrorism. "
OK, let 's get real. What exactly has happened in Iraq since Saddam Hussein 's capture?
Well, the death rate among American soldiers has increased rather than decreased. Forty-seven soldiers died in January, the second-highest total since the beginning of the war and five more than in December when Saddam was captured (Kansas City Star, 03/02/04).
More than a hundred Iraqis died on February 10 and 11 as the result of car bombs, one outside an Iraqi police station, and a second outside an Iraqi Army recruiting center. (Those who were attempting to join the army had asked to come inside the fortified compound, but had been refused permission by the Americans.)
On February 1 in Irbil, one hundred Kurds celebrating the Islamic festival of Id al-Adha were killed by suicide bombers who penetrated the headquarters of the two major Kurdish parties. " 'The bombing sends two messages across the region: The first is, we are still here and we are dangerous; the second is, if you collaborate with the coalition, you are a legitimate target and you must face the consequences, ' said Charles Heyman, a senior defense analyst for Jane 's Consultancy Group, based in London " (Los Angeles Times, 2/02/04).
The conflict looks more and more like a war of national liberation rather than a series of ad hoc attacks.
Like the insurgents in a war of national liberation, the Iraqi opposition appears to have intelligence gathering capabilities. They were able to launch a rocket attack on Paul Wolfowitz 's hotel in Baghdad, missing the undersecretary himself, but clearly scaring the bejeezuz out of him ( "bring 'em on! "). More recently, the insurgents were nearly able to kill General John Abizaid, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, as his convoy traveled to a compound in Fallujah.
One of the most ominous recent developments was the attack by up to seventy insurgents on a police station in Fallujah in which prisoners were released and approximately twenty Iraqi policemen were killed. This cannot be dismissed as a hiccup on the road to nation building. It signals that the opposition is behaving like a national liberation army, identifying high value targets and carrying out successful actions against them. It also demonstrates that the U.S. trained Iraqi security forces are unlikely to be any match for the insurgents once the U.S. draws back. It had originally been announced that the raid was carried out by foreigners (a variant on the "outside agitator " theme that was raised by conservatives wanting to devalue demonstrations in U.S. cities in the sixties and seventies). It is now clear that the attackers were sophisticated, organized, and Iraqi.
In less direct developments, in the north the tensions between the Kurds, the Turkomen, and the Arabs have reached a high simmer, with sporadic shootings and assassinations. The Kurds persist in seeking the autonomy they enjoyed under the protection of the American no-fly zone. Any arrangement that recognizes Kurdish autonomy and control over Kirkuk, which sits astride the second-richest oil reserves in the country, will raise tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, Azerbaizhan, Syria, and Iran, all of whom have large, restive Kurdish populations. It is not clear how the capture of Saddam improves this situation.
U.S. plans for handing off responsibility for governing to the Iraqis have gone all to hell. We are hearing that the scheme of electing a provisional legislative body from caucuses attended by hand-picked American stooges is "dead in the water " (Independent, 16/02/04). Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani 's supporters marched by the tens of thousands to demand popular elections instead.
As a result, the United States went hat-in-hand to the United Nations and beseeched it to please, please, please help with the transition of power in Iraq. The head of the U.N. study team, Lakhdar Brahimi, endorsed elections, but said that they could never be implemented before July 1, when the Bushies fervently hoped they would be able to exit the country and then blame the Iraqis for anything that went wrong. In spite of the capture of Saddam Hussein, it looks more and more as if the Iraq problem just won 't be cleared up by election time.
And what about George the Warrior 's approval ratings? In mid-February a Washington Post/ABC News poll indicated that for the first time, less than half of Americans (48%) now believe the war was worth fighting (Washington Post, 13/02/04). A majority of Americans believed that Bush either lied about or exaggerated the case for the war. Only 52% believe that Bush is honest and trustworthy as compared to 59% in October. It may actually be that George and the prevari-cons needed Saddam in a perverse way because now that he 's gone, they don 't have anybody to blame when bad stuff happens.
Howard Dean said that Americans were no safer after Saddam Hussein was captured than they had been before. Joseph Lieberman, Republicrat presidential candidate, was outraged by Dean 's statement. But, as the slaughter continues to unfold in Iraq, flights into the United States continue to be cancelled, and the helicopters continue to fall out of Iraqi skies, Dean can take some consolation that his assessment has proven a great deal more accurate than Dan Rather 's.
Greg Weiher is a political scientist and free lance writer living in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.