by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
December 15, 2003
SADDAM'S GONE, BUT IRAQ IS STILL A QUAGMIRE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Sunday was a great coup for the United States.
However, Saddam's capture doesn't mean that the attacks on American forces will wind down. Even President George W. Bush knows this.
It's been a popular myth that most of the resistance to the occupation has been carried out by Saddam loyalists. One look at the pictures of the captured Saddam and the hideout where he was nabbed would tell you that this isn't a man in charge of a resistance movement.
The reality is that the bulk of the insurgency has been carried out by Iraqi nationalists who resent the American presence in Iraq.
There may be a tangle of agendas - Sunnis who fear the Shiite majority will take over the country, Shiites who want to avenge the decades of persecution by the Sunni-supported Saddam, Kurds who want to control the north of the country - but there is one thing that the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all agree upon: the U.S. should end the occupation and get out of Iraq.
Saddam may be out of the picture, but the resentment over the U.S. occupation and the harsh treatment that some Iraqi civilians have received by American forces will fuel the resistance for a long time to come.
It may seem like I'm trying to rain on the victory celebration, but there are some other inconvenient truths that need to be brought up.
This was the Bush administration's primary justification for invading Iraq, and it has been proven absolutely, totally false. Those of us who opposed the invasion knew this was so, and nothing has happened in the past year to prove us wrong.
France, Germany, Canada and Russia's help would be most welcome right now. But President Bush would rather punish the nations who rightly pointed out that an invasion of Iraq would be an unnecessary disaster than seek their help. The stupidity was compounded last week by asking France, Germany and Russia to forgive the debts owed to them by Iraq within hours after announcing that they'd be shut out of the contract bidding.
According to this week's issue of Newsweek, al-Qaeda has decided to shift its strategy. It has decided to divert some of its resources from aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan to fighting us in Iraq. The order apparently came from bin Laden himself, because he believes Iraq has become the perfect battleground for killing Americans.
You may recall that another one of the justifications for the American invasion of Iraq was that Saddam had ties to bin Laden. There is still no conclusive evidence of that. But we do know that since Saddam was ousted from power, there has been a steady stream of outside resistance fighters - including al-Qaida representatives - heading to Iraq for the chance to kill U.S. soldiers.
Here may be the greatest irony of the invasion of Iraq. We diverted resources away from fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan to invade a country that posed no threat to the U.S. Instead of crushing al-Qaida and capturing bin Laden, the Bush administration's obsession with Saddam gave al-Qaida breathing room to regroup. Now the Taliban are as powerful as they've been since their ouster two years ago, and bin Laden is confident enough to divert resources from the Taliban to the resistance forces in Iraq.
Instead of one battlefield, the United States now has two.
That may be the biggest reason to hold off on the cheering. Iraq isn't any safer with Saddam behind bars and peace and stability are still a long way off. Throw in the continued fighting in Afghanistan and we will see American soldiers killed and maimed for some time to come.
As long as bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are still on the loose, American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are still in danger. If things get worse in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush will have a lot of explaining to do on his administration's decision to focus on Saddam rather than bin Laden.
We can only hope that that decision won't ultimately be a costly one for the United States.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.