- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Without firing a shot, a squad of American soldiers transformed the war in Iraq, and with that they transformed politics at home and across the world.

The raucous jubilation in the streets of Baghdad - the shouts of euphoric pedestrians, the din of horns of cars and trucks, the staccato clatter of guns fired at the sky that is the mark of celebration across Arabia - demonstrated once and for all the shallow depth of the “resistance” to the coalition triumph over Saddam Hussein.

The cries of “They got him!” from ordinary Iraqis was the greeting of the day, a reprise of L. Paul Bremers statement to his press conference: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.”

The Americans who captured him made no attempt to hide their excitement: “He was in the bottom of a hole, so there was no way he could fight back,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division troops who seized Saddam. “He was caught just like a rat.” Though armed with a pistol, he made no attempt to take his own life in the manner of bullying dictators before him.

President Bush, measured in his remarks in Washington, addressed his satisfaction to the Iraqi people. “You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again,” he said. “A hopeful day has arrived.” Then he addressed a caution to the Americans at home who sent their sons and daughters on this deadly mission in the Middle East:

“Their work continues and so does the risk. The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq.”

No doubt true, but the seizure of Saddam will mute, if not silence, the domestic critics of the war. The new political reality on the eve of the presidential election year was easily read on the face of Howard Dean, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, as he congratulated the president on his day of triumph. Suddenly the harsh criticism of the president, the questioning of military strategy, the skepticism of the Iraqi war seemed almost irrelevant. Taken together with the gathering evidence of economic recovery, the president and his partisan allies could revel, at least for now, in the winning of the Daily Double.

The capture of Saddam, cornered like a rat and desperate to be taken alive, will have repercussions across the Islamic world, too. Though reviled nearly everywhere as a psychopathic monster, the keeper of torture chambers that would have given Torquemada the willies, Saddams escape into hiding at the end of major combat in Iraq earned him a measure of respect on “the Arab street.” He had escaped the grasp of the infidels, and with all their magic weapons of warfare, the infidels, try as they might, could not find him. It was easy on the Arab street to take satisfaction.

Now all that has changed. Like bullies before him, Saddam in the grasp of his captors had none of the swagger that marked his rule. Haggard, dirty, disoriented and eager for small mercies from his captors, the man who once bestrode the Tigris and the Euphrates like an angry pagan god suddenly looked small, helpless and even pitiful. His stature in captivity, waiting for justice from the Iraqis he terrorized with unimaginable brutality, will only diminish as witnesses come forward with the details of misrule.

The first U.S. officials who talked to him said he was talkative and appeared to be cooperative, but revealed little; leaders of the Iraqi Governing Council who identified him behind his long, scraggly beard said he occasionally lapsed into defiance. Over the next few days and weeks the coalition forces and Iraqi interrogators will seek answers to the questions that remain still unanswered: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? If not in Iraq, where are they? How did they get where they are? What were his connections, if any, with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the Islamist terror network?

With Saddam imprisoned, terrified and spilling the dark secrets of his regime, what will become of the Baathist resistance to the inevitable? There is reason to believe that the seizure of the tyrant is the end of the beginning in Baghdad. Mr. Bremer spoke for the coalition, and perhaps even for the critics of the coalition, with an invitation to the Iraqis still loyal to what is now only the idea of Saddam Hussein: “Let them now come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and hope, lay down their arms.”


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