<%-- Page Title--%> International <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 135 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 26, 2003

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Capture of Saddam Hussein The End of Resistance?

Saddam Hussein's capture marks a huge morale boost for US forces and a serious blow to Baathist elements engaged in armed resistance against them.

This is the definitive end of the Baathist regime. There can be no succession.

Saddam Hussein is in custody and the two sons who were major props to his regime are both dead. But this does not mean that armed resistance to the Americans and their allies will end. This after all derives from a number of factors -- political, nationalist, religious and criminal. They include:

One of Saddam Hussein's last acts in power was to empty the prisons. Many criminal gangs have resumed their activities. Many people associated with the former regime -- disbanded officers and soldiers, for example -- are increasingly disgruntled small numbers of foreign fighters may be crossing into Iraq to carry out personal acts of jihad. Many former Baathists may be increasingly bitter after Saddam Hussein's capture.

But they have nowhere to go and US forces are likely to try to track them down with renewed vigour. Nonetheless, the arrest of the former Iraqi ruler creates a dramatic shift in the psychological climate.

Many ordinary Iraqis have already been celebrating in the streets. Whatever the day-to-day realities around them, many people have combined their frustration with the Americans with a fear that as the "resistance movement" became more audacious, the US might simply pack up and go home and Saddam Hussein's henchmen would return. They now know that is no longer possible. Clearly the Americans will hope to extract as much information as they can from Saddam Hussein. He may have had only a limited role in the resistance activities; most analysts believe that he spent most of his time trying to evade capture.

A US soldier of the Fourth Infantry Division climbs out of the spider hole, in which Saddam Hussein was hiding in a farm near Tikrit.

But to the extent that the planning for the resistance seems to have gone on well before US troops crossed into Iraq he may well be able to throw some light on its organisation and extent. He will also be questioned about weapons of mass destruction and on alleged links between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime.

Prior to his capture, the governments in both London and Washington have been embarrassed by their inability to find much evidence justifying either set of claims. But it is not all going to be plain sailing ahead. Creating some form of fledgling democracy is not going to be easy given the deep ethnic divisions in the country. Until now, perhaps the potentially most dangerous group facing the Americans has been the Shia in the south. They have bided their time and have by and large gone along with the current arrangements, waiting to see how the US plans to accommodate their interests.

But if the US fell out with the powerful Shia, then the ensuing violence could make the Baathist opposition pale in comparison.

The writer is the BBC’s defence correspondent




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