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What after Saddam's capture?

December 15, 2003

What impact will the capture of Saddam Hussein by US troops on the night of December 13, 2003, have on the ground situation in Iraq? Would it lead to a petering out of the resistance movement and the acts of terrorism against the coalition troops, their Iraqi collaborators and foreign organisations? Would it weaken the Iraqi opposition to the occupation of Iraq by the US and allied troops? Would it mark the beginning of the return of normalcy in Iraq?

Before attempting answers to these questions, it would be pertinent to draw attention to the following assessments made in the past:

  • In an assessment after the death of the two sons of Saddam in an encounter with the US troops in July, I had stated as follows: 'The plans for the jihad against the American troops, including the modus operandi to be followed, the communications drill to be adopted etc had been drawn up long before the US-UK invasion of Iraq. It has definitely not been improvised after the occupation. To have maintained even this low level of jihad for over two months without suffering a single capture of the foot-soldiers of the jihad is no mean achievement... The jihadis have been trained in such a manner as to be able to operate autonomously in small cells without the need for much of centralised command and control. The autonomy of operations has been not only in respect of ground strikes, but also intelligence collection and exploitation. Many of the strikes have been against targets of opportunity and not against pre-selected ones. The role played by Saddam Hussein and his sons in the co-ordination and control and in the motivation is not as high as seemed to have been estimated by the US analysts. Even if Saddam is ultimately killed or captured, it would be over-optimistic to expect the jihad to collapse immediately. The level of popular support enjoyed by the jihadis is considerable.' (See article dated July 26, 2003, titled Iraq: The Jihad of Daily Cuts at
  • 'There is so far no evidence of a common mastermind guiding the activities of the indigenous and the external jihadis.' (See article dated December 2, 2003, titled Wanted: Re-Bathification of Iraq)
From the sparse details given by the US officials at the Baghdad press conference announcing his capture, certain deductions are possible. Firstly, the US troops had information about the area in which he was hiding. Secondly, they did not have information about the exact place and  manner of his hiding. They found out only during the general search that there was a spider hole and he was found inside that. If they had known initially about the existence of this hole and his being there, they would have gone straight there. Third, the place was not well guarded since the coalition troops captured only two others in addition to Saddam. He did not apparently keep an elaborate security set-up to guard him lest they attract the attention of the passers-by. Four, the raiding troops captured two AK-47 rifles and a sum of $750,000 in cash, but no communications equipment. This would show that he had no means of electronically communicating with his supporters.

The US officials gave the impression that the intelligence leading to his capture came from human sources. A technical interception of communications would have indicated the general area of his hiding, but not the existence of the spider hole.

Why didn't he put up any resistance? Normally, trained troops take considerable precautions before entering a room during a search. The precautions should have been even greater before entering a hole like the one in which he was hiding. One has not heard of such precautions. The troops seemed to have just got into the hole and picked him. Was this because he was drugged beforehand by the source who betrayed him and the source first entered the hole and confirmed that Saddam was not conscious before the troops entered? The time required for him to regain consciousness so that he could be videographed could explain the interval of more than 12 hours before the announcement of his capture was made.

The circumstances of his hiding and the absence of any communication equipment there would show that he was not exercising any command and control over the resistance movement. Either the resistance movement had organised itself spontaneously without Saddam playing any role in it or someone else was keeping it motivated and active on his behalf.

Would his capture weaken the motivation of the resistance movement and the external terrorists? This is possible only if it was only the love for Saddam and loyalty to him that had kept the resistance fighters motivated. There is no reason to believe that this was so. It is the injured sense of patriotism of the Iraqis and their anger over the occupation of their country by coalition troops which has given rise to the resistance movement. So long as the feeling of injury and anger continue, the motivation for resistance is likely to remain strong despite the capture of Saddam.

In the case of the external terrorists, their motivation too does not appear to have had anything to do with Saddam. It was more their sensing of an opportunity to humiliate the US which has brought them to Iraq despite the fact that they had considered Saddam in the past as an apostate.

Right from the beginning of the anti-Saddam campaign, the US has made many facile assumptions which subsequently proved wrong. The first related to the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The second to their expectation that the Iraqis would welcome the occupation with joy. And the third that they had defeated the Iraqi Army whereas it had just melted away just like the Taliban in Afghanistan to bide its time for a better opportunity to hit back at the US.

Yet another facile assumption is that it is the fear of Saddam returning to power which is preventing the Iraqi people from co-operating with the coalition troops and making some of them keep up their resistance. Once they see that Saddam is a prisoner, this fear will disappear, thereby making them amenable to co-operation and peace.

This assumption underestimates the patriotism of the Iraqi people and the anti-US anger of the external jihadis. It is this under-estimation which has been behind many of the difficulties faced by the US in Iraq. There have been at least 15 suicide bombings since August. One cannot force a person to undertake a suicide mission through fear of anybody.People who undertake suicide missions do so either out of genuine conviction in their cause or out of a strong sense of personal anger against the target.

So long as this conviction and anti-US anger remain strong, there is unlikely to be any significant respite for the coalition troops.


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