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Monday, December 15

Saddam's capture shouldn't affect troop deployments

By Frank Oliveri | GNS

WASHINGTON - The capture of Saddam Hussein is a morale boost for those with family members serving in Iraq, but it probably won't shorten their loved ones' time overseas, experts said Monday.

To more than 130,000 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve troops serving in Iraq, the message from President Bush on Monday was clear: Troop levels in Iraq would depend on security there.

``We're going to stay the course,'' Bush said.

Defense analysts pointed to the continued violence in Iraq - two car bombs exploded outside police stations in Baghdad on Monday, killing eight and wounding 22 others - as a sign that attacks might increase in the wake of Saddam's capture.

``I don't really think it's going to make a difference in how long we are here,'' said Army Pfc. Mark Herr of Lugoff, S.C., who is assigned to 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment in Iraq.

But experts said Americans could expect several outcomes that ultimately would bring U.S. servicemen and women home sooner:

- Saddam's psychological hold on the country is broken.

- Iraqis are more likely to assist U.S. troops with Saddam in custody.

- Iraqis may be more inclined to join the nation's new army.

- Saddam's capture may hasten Iraq's ability to govern itself.

``In six months we could get out faster because that was a huge obstacle we had to overcome,'' said Jack Spencer, senior defense analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation. ``I'm talking about moving toward achieving our objective of a self-sustaining, self-governing Iraq.''

One Army reservist currently serving in Iraq, however, is convinced this is a turning point for the United States in seeking to restore peace to the strife-torn country.

``What's going to happen is the people that are sitting on the fence that were afraid to come over are going (to) wholeheartedly come over to our side,'' said Capt. Ed Larkin, a 32-year-old linguist from the 351st Military Intelligence Company out of Austin, Texas. ``If there is no hope of (Saddam's) party returning, the alternative is to turn to us.''

Still, Tom Donnelly, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said Saddam's capture would not have any real impact on the force size.

``For all practical matters, Saddam wasn't in the loop in the command and control structure,'' he said. ``It's hard for me to see anything remotely close to a complete withdrawal or anything less than a big commitment to Iraq.''

Donnelly said U.S. troops would be in Iraq even after the Iraqi people elect their own government.

``This experiment in Iraqi democracy will be occurring in an inhospitable neighborhood,'' he said.

The capture of Saddam also may encourage other nations to use their own troops to help the United States. But much will depend on whether insurgents give up the fight.

``In time if security improves, we can start seeing our troop levels reduced,'' said retired Army Col. William Taylor from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Saddam's capture ``could give all the families the hope that their guys are coming home sooner than later, but I don't think you can say more than that.''

(Contributing: Matthew Cox, The Army Times)