WASHINGTON—The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean an end to the insurgency aimed at derailing the transition to a free Iraq. Saddam wasn't running that war. He was running for his life.
The groups that violently oppose the American presence in Iraq are as diverse as the country itself, and Saddam Hussein was not their spiritual symbol, as Ho Chi Minh was for the Vietnamese, much less their military leader, as was North Vietnam's Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.
Among the Iraqi insurgents, there is no single unifying ideology or religious tenet. The only thing they share is an overwhelming desire to kill Americans and anyone who helps Americans, be they foreigners or Iraqis. Some groups who have diametrically opposed views occasionally make common cause out of necessity.
To most of the insurgents—whose numbers are estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000—Saddam was irrelevant and had been since the day he fled his capital ahead of the Americans and began his eight-month odyssey that ended Saturday.
At the time of his capture, Saddam had no cell phone, no radio—in fact, no means of communication except the spoken word, and only two confidantes were there to hear that. The war against the Americans proceeded without him, and it will continue to do so.
If anything, American officials were bracing for the possibility of increased attacks as the insurgents seek to make it clear they haven't gone anywhere. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard B. Myers, talked about a need to remain very vigilant "because there's a possibility of retaliatory strikes."
Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, whose troops captured Saddam, said that while capturing him was important and satisfying, "there's still a lot of work that we have to do."
The work he spoke of demands that the 130,000 American troops in Iraq swiftly hone the tricky and nuanced skills of the counterinsurgency operations that revolve around gathering intelligence from ordinary Iraqis and then acting swiftly and precisely on that intelligence with a minimum disruption of the community.
It was just such an operation that netted Saddam and has swept up several thousand other suspected insurgents, including more than 200 foreigners.
In a recent interview with Knight Ridder, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid, warned that military operations alone aren't the solution. He said every military sweep must be followed up with civil-military action to get at the root causes of unrest and dissatisfaction.
Abizaid listed these components of the insurgency, in descending order of importance and strength:
_former regime elements who have both the weapons to arm and the money to hire disaffected youth, street thugs and criminals to carry out attacks;
_foreign fighters, so-called jihadists or holy warriors, who infiltrate across Iraq's porous borders with Syria and Iran;
_dangerous international terrorists from groups such as al-Qaida and Ansar al Islam;
_anti-Western religious extremists in the Sunni areas;
_anti-American Shiite Muslim splinter groups.
"The question that every military commander has to have in the back of his mind is whether or not the offensive operation is actually decreasing the problem and not increasing the problem," he said. "If, in other words, for every 10 enemy you kill you bring on 20 new recruits to their anti-coalition cause, then essentially you are working against yourself."
Dureid Samir al Hashimi, an unemployed 20-year-old who lives in the village where Saddam was found, said: "The Fedayeen will increase their operations against the American troops. They will only get bigger now."
Elsewhere in the Middle East, some observers warned that the capture of Saddam would only worsen the situation. "It's not Saddam's resistance, it's a popular resistance and it will not go away with his arrest," said Adnan Asfour, a Hamas official in Nablus.
Mustafa Bakri, editor of an Egyptian weekly newspaper, put it this way: "The Americans think arresting Saddam is a victory, but I believe this will increase the scale of attacks against them."
In Washington, from President Bush down, administration officials were careful to avoid gloating and victory laps. "Nobody here is doing `high fives,' " said one Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A 4th Infantry Division officer on duty in the village of Adwar where Saddam was captured, Capt. Joe Munger, said, "Yeah, it's important, but I don't think we can hang our hat on it and go home."