- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

Saddam Hussein is wrong to think a few American casualties will weaken our resolve.

The war in Iraq is not over. More American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the United States formally declared hostilities at an end than were killed in any single engagement during the war. More casualties are likely in the weeks ahead.

Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday, and Qusay, are alive and are hiding out somewhere in greater Baghdad, protected by an underground network of tribal leaders and former Ba’ath Party officials, the CIA thinks.

“There is a resistance network and it is stronger than we originally thought,” an administration official, who asked not to be identified, told Richard Sale, intelligence correspondent for UPI.

Saddam and his entourage move from private home to private home, his sources told Mr. Sale:

“Members of the family, including children, are taken as hostages so that no other family member will be tempted to inform on Saddam’s whereabouts,” Mr. Sale said. “When Saddam is ready to move to another safe house, the hostages are returned and the family is paid as much as $50,000 for the temporary use of their home.”

The failure so far to capture Saddam is less than a defeat for the United States, but more than a nuisance.

Saddam is not a furtive terrorist leader, like Osama bin Laden. His power derived from holding power. Without it, he is not such of a much. Saddam stood for little more than his own glorification and enrichment, which are not causes for which thousands of fanatics willingly sacrifice their lives.

But many Iraqis will not breathe easy until the United States has captured Saddam, or can provide conclusive evidence that he is dead. And if the United States could produce such evidence, all the air would be let out of the Ba’athist balloon.

It is likely that sooner or later — probably sooner — the U.S. will nab Saddam. With each passing day, Iraqis get more comfortable with the American presence, and American intelligence resources get better. With each passing day, the more pressing problems of providing security and getting basic services up and running are ameliorated, permitting more attention and resources to be devoted to the hunt for Saddam and other Ba’ath leaders.

This is why random attacks on American service personnel — in convoys, on foot patrols, at sentry posts — are likely to increase in the weeks ahead.

Saddam has to know that time is working against him. With each day, his influence over the Iraqi people diminishes. He hopes to wait out the American occupation. But he can’t afford to wait too long. He has to do what he can to make us leave sooner rather than later, to demonstrate to ordinary Iraqis that he still has teeth, lest what little influence he retains slip away.

Large majorities of every major ethnic and religious grouping in Iraq either support the American presence, or are indifferent to it. A poll of 620 Baghdadis by al-Mutamar, one of more than a dozen newspapers that has sprung up in the Iraqi capital, found that though 85 percent had complaints about the American military government, 77 percent supported the war to oust Saddam, and 65 percent wanted U.S. troops to stay indefinitely.

The Rev. Ken Joseph, a former “human shield” who has returned to Iraq, said that most of the Iraqis he has spoken to “hope [the Americans] stay forever.”

Salam Pax, an Iraqi Web logger who now writes a column for the left-wing British newspaper, the Guardian, described a conversation with a Shi’ite Muslim cabdriver in which the man told him his imam is urging the faithful to cooperate with Americans: “They did get rid of Saddam and should be given a chance to prove their good will.”

Like Osama bin Laden, Saddam regarded Mogadishu 1993 as a defeat for the United States. He distributed videos of “Blackhawk Down” to all his generals. Inflict a few casualties on the Americans and they will leave, he thinks. The strategy worked with Bill Clinton. It is unlikely to succeed with George W. Bush. But it is the only card Saddam has to play. Our soldiers are up to the challenge. They will not be intimidated. But the next few weeks — perhaps months — are fraught with danger. Keep our troops in your prayers.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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