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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Monday, December 15

Dictator was only figurehead for insurgents, experts say

By Greg Barrett | GNS

WASHINGTON - In the end, the Iraqi strongman looked physically and politically weak. Saddam Hussein had returned to the simple, hardscrabble region of his youth where he was found living in a mud hut with few accessories.

The world had not heard from Saddam since audiotapes broadcast Sept. 1 on Arab TV sounded his virulent charge to kill ``the servants of the infidel occupation.''

But by all appearances, security experts said Monday, the bedraggled and submissive dictator shown ad nauseam to the world on Sunday was more inspirer than conspirator. A reluctant warrior at best.

"It didn't appear that he had any communication system set up and I don't think it's likely that he had a significant role'' in the rebellion, said retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was CIA director under President Jimmy Carter.

But Saddam's capture Saturday near his hometown of Tikrit ``is a big step forward for us,'' Turner said, ``because a lot of Iraqis were loyal to him out of fear that he would come back.''

Of the 55 Iraqi regime leaders on the Pentagon's most-wanted list, 41 have been captured or killed. The highest-ranking loyalist remaining is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a Baath Party leader whose wife and daughter were arrested as material witnesses by U.S. forces in November. The Pentagon claims that al-Douri is helping plot the attacks that occur almost daily against coalition forces.

"It's difficult to say who may be leading this (guerrilla) effort now,'' said Natalie Goldring, director of the Global Security and Disarmament program at the University of Maryland. ``The U.S. forces have been remarkably successful in gathering the vast majority of top leaders - the so-called deck of cards is largely depleted.''

Whatever role Saddam had played in the insurgency is now in question.

"He probably was already irrelevant in the sense that he was operating underground,'' said Mahmood Monshipouri, a native of Iran and visiting fellow at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. ``But, still, he wasn't alone in that hole, so that tells me that he had at least some connection with other people and the underground effort.''

When Saddam was found hiding in an 8-foot-deep pit, U.S. forces also seized two unnamed men, two AK-47 rifles, $750,000 in U.S. currency and a taxicab. The former president of Iraq went quietly into custody and looked to all the world like a pauper.

Interviewed by four leaders of Iraq's new U.S.-appointed governing council, Saddam suggested that he was directing the attacks on coalition forces, council member Ahmad Chalabi told reporters Sunday.

Saddam bragged to the council members about speeches that had roused the resistance, but he stopped short of incriminating himself in the bombings. He said only that he had fought the Americans with pistols, Chalabi said.

"I have no doubt that some pockets of resistance in the Tikrit area were probably led by him,'' said Monshipouri, chairman of the political science department at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. ``But mostly Saddam was a symbol for the overall resistance.''

Images of a defiant dictator defeated could have a paradoxical effect on loyalists, Monshipouri warned. It will likely incite some that are angered and humiliated by Saddam's meek surrender, and it will drain the fight from others that regarded Saddam as a leader and a warrior.

"It will affect the Baathist group the most and lead some of them to drop out,'' Turner predicted. ``They may decide to just go underground and fold up.''

Meanwhile, foreign militants that the Pentagon says have crossed into Iraq are unlikely to be discouraged by Saddam's capture.

"That group is far more troublesome. They have had the better part of a year to mobilize and coordinate their plan of attack,'' said the University of Maryland's Goldring, who thinks cooperation from the large militaries in Russia, Germany and France are needed to re-enforce the occupation.Of the 180,000 or so troops in Iraq today, about 150,000 are from the United States.

"This is a country about the size of California,'' Goldring said. ``The kinds of attacks taking place haven't required much more than a donkey cart, a bunch of explosives and someone who is willing to die. ... It will be extraordinarily difficult to stop.''