- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam Hussein’s capture will provide oxygen to the sputtering Iraqi political process and lead, over time, to a lessening of attacks on U.S. troops and coalition officials, politicians and military officials said yesterday.

But the death of a U.S. soldier and a car-bomb attack yesterday that killed 17 persons west of Baghdad bore out warnings that attacks would continue and perhaps even increase in the short term.

Iraq’s ambassador to the United States welcomed the arrest of the deposed dictator as a “watershed” that will make improvement in Iraq possible.

“Even though philosophically and intellectually we knew that the regime was gone, for a traumatized people, they needed closure,” said Rend al-Rahim.

“They needed to know that this book is closed. This is the last chapter. You’ve closed the book, and now you can begin the future of Iraq,” she said on CNN’s “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer.”

American officials hope that with Saddam in custody, the Iraqi people will show more confidence in the U.S.-led coalition and be less fearful of revenge attacks against those who cooperate with the United States.

But several authorities echoed a warning from President Bush yesterday that the violence that has beset U.S. forces in Iraq would not end immediately.

“I think there is reason to believe that the people who have been attacking the U.S. troops were not in communication with Saddam, that they were autonomous and independent cells. They will continue to attack us,” said Richard Clark, an antiterrorism authority in the past three U.S. administrations, in a television interview.

Just 12 hours after Saddam’s capture, a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi police station in the town of Khaldiyah killing 17 persons and wounding at least 33 — a sign that the units attacking Americans are able to operate without Saddam’s personal direction.

“We had to get him, if only to overcome the fear people still had in Iraq to commit to working with us,” said Rachel Bronson, head of the Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “I see Saddam’s capture as a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in Iraq.”

However, the dictator’s public humiliation — coupled with his failure to resist arrest — has made him a figure of ridicule for many Iraqis, possibly demoralizing those who were fighting on his behalf.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, predicted Saddam’s arrest would cut off a crucial source of support for the insurgents.

“With the arrest of Saddam, the financial resources feeding terrorists have been destroyed and his arrest will put an end to terrorist acts in Iraq,” he told the Iranian news agency IRNA.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said Saddam’s arrest marked “a critical moment in the history of the country, in the history of our attempt to bring security and stability to Iraq.”

Acknowledging that attacks on coalition forces would continue “for some time,” Gen. Sanchez said, “I believe that we are now much closer to a safe and secure environment here.”

Iraqi officials and many foreign leaders suggested that Washington move quickly to turn over more authority to the Iraqis.

Lt. Col. Alan King, an Army reservist in the 354th Civil Affairs Command, said Saddam’s capture will allow Iraq’s traditional leaders, the sheiks, to focus on their future without fearing the past.

“Everyone has been distracted by Saddam, even though he hasn’t had much power since April 9th,” said Col. King, the special assistant for tribal affairs. “It’s been a fixation: Where is he and what is he doing?”

More than 7,300 tribal leaders were recognized by Saddam’s government, which co-opted many of the sheiks and encouraged their rivalries to his own benefit. In many villages, the chiefs remain the true authority.

Col. King, who has met with more than 2,500 tribal leaders, said they have been increasingly instrumental in turning over high-value suspects and building support for coalition aims.

“This will definitely help,” he said.

Saddam’s capture is also likely to undermine the nascent “Return Party,” made up primarily of former senior Ba’athists and their sometimes frightened supporters.

Although the group has no representation inside the Governing Council, there had been fears that it would campaign in predominantly Sunni areas by promising that Saddam would return triumphant.

Iraqi exiles urged the coalition to seize the moment and press forward quickly with reconstruction.

“I think they should build on this momentum, not lose time, and go as fast as they can to just continue to gain the Iraqi people’s trust and confidence,” said Rubar Sandi, an Iraqi-American who now heads the CorporateBank in Washington.

“The momentum is there right now. Let’s capture this moment. This is the greatest chance to recapture the energy and build on it.”

• Sharon Behn contributed to this report.

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