TCS Daily

Capitalize Now!

By Melana Zyla Vickers - December 18, 2003 12:00 AM

The images of a captured Saddam Hussein being checked for head lice no doubt demoralized his supporters in Iraq and across the Arab world. But unless the U.S. moves quickly to capitalize on Saddam's capture, Iraq's other famous infestation -- by armed insurgents -- will remain tough to eradicate.


Worse yet, it could grow. That's because a few weeks before Saddam's capture, the Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan reportedly told Taliban rebels that it would soon redirect its fighters and money to the Iraq campaign. Assuming the report in the Dec. 15 Newsweek is correct, Iraq could soon see an inflow of insurgents targeting the U.S. And for these guys, the capture of Saddam Hussein will be an irrelevant sideshow.


The U.S. will need to exploit rapidly any financial hardship, sapped morale, or loss of purpose that the Saddam capture has caused among the locals, the Baathist insurgents estimated to number around 5,000. Already there are reports that two top Baathist generals have been arrested, thanks to information in Saddam's briefcase. The info collected from Saddam's capture is also already leading to the breakup of cells in Baghdad and the capture of financial sponsors of attacks. But far more arrests and disruptions are needed if this, more-populous wing of the insurgency is to be clipped.


If the Saddam-backers' insurgency can be cut down, the foreigners for whom Saddam's defeat means little will lose their eyes and ears in Iraq. Numbering in the low hundreds, their strength is difficult to gauge. One thing is certain, though, even if the foreign fighters are not closely tied to the Baathist fighters -- they are dependent on locals to show them Iraq's geographic and logistical ropes. After all, a non-Iraqi Arab trying to make his way in the country of tribal loyalties is almost as foreign as an American is. Send the local insurgents reeling, and you seriously set back any incoming foreign fighters.


The U.S. will need to employ several tactics to pull the rug out from under the foreigners. Among them, continuing this approach of targeting Saddam's tribal brethren in Tikrit to break the back of the domestic insurgency. The pressure needs to remain strong, there. The same applies to Fallujah, though its Saddam loyalists aren't of his tribe. Simultaneously, the U.S. and new Iraqi leadership will need to build up the Sunni populace, for whom the capture of fellow Sunni Saddam raises questions of their role in a Shia-majority, Shia-ruled Iraq.


Indeed, beyond the Sunnis, the U.S. will need to play the Saddam capture to its advantage with the Iraqi public: Keep his crimes fresh in their minds with televised images, stress his current powerlessness and humiliation with a speedy, public trial. The reason for such a PR campaign is easy to understand: Where there is residual belief that the old guard could resurface to challenge the Americans and the new Iraqi leadership, there is a hospitable place for foreign fighters to find support and assistance.


Finally, the U.S. must move post haste to build up indigenous Iraq security institutions -- the military and the police. More than ever, Iraq's indigenous governance and defenses cannot be a vacuum to be exploited by foreign terrorists.


Saddam's capture is a victory to be sure. But only swift and effective military action against his loyalists can keep that victory from being overshadowed by the rising threat of insurgency.

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