As Mr. Cheney said, it would take weeks, not months. And three weeks to the day, liberated Iraqis were in Firdos Square in Baghdad toppling a huge statue of Saddam with a little help from the U.S. Marines. There are many scenes of celebration, even looting. But Iraq, and even many parts of Baghdad, are not yet both free and safe. Not yet.
The people dancing in Baghdad’s streets today can be forgiven if they’re rushing things a bit. We have most of the Iraqi capital under our control, but there are many pockets of resistance, and they will take some time to knock down. The huge counterattack reported yesterday appears now to be no more than another short, sharp battle with leftover Republican Guards and some of the false fedayeen who have come in from several countries. After the first hundred or so were killed, they cut and ran.
Which seems to be the case for most of the others who are popping up in Baghdad. According to one Marine being interviewed on Sky News this morning, they shoot once, drop their weapons and run. This seems to be their consistent behavior, and it can’t be ignored. Even that one shot can kill you.
The reaction to our fast-paced campaign is very interesting. Today’s Arab News–the Saudi English language daily–accuses the Republican Guard of betraying the character of the Arab fighter. What they betray is not their ethnicity, but their training and doctrine. These “elite” armies are used for oppression of civilians, and really don’t function well in a standup fight with a real opponent. That is one reason they so often choose terrorism. The lesson they are now being taught is that terrorism won’t work either, because we will use the full weight of our forces to stamp out terror, and the regimes that make terror happen.
The Iraqis are entitled to celebrate. Thirty years of brutal oppression are over, and though the fighting continues, hope and freedom have made their debut. It’s time for a little celebration. But not much.
As usual, the intelligence agencies are squabbling over the question of Saddam’s fate. The CIA seems confident he’s dead, but the Brit MI6 insists he was seen leaving the building before the B-1 delivered the four GBU-31s the other day. If he is alive, it’s a pretty safe bet he’s no longer in Baghdad.
Saddam’s path could take him almost anywhere. If he thought there was any chance of surviving–or if he is so emotionally breached that he’s capable of little more than crying about the old days–he may have holed up in his Tikrit Palace. If he’s suddenly awakened to the fact that this is not your papa’s George Bush, he’s probably out of there to Syria or anywhere else he thinks he can hide. The man is a survivor, and probably has longstanding deals with two or three governments to hide him. Syria is the most likely place.
The action now shifts northward, to Tikrit, Mosul and the areas even farther north where the Kurds are active and the Turks are nervous. This is the time in which the too many free groups can either join together or split the country apart. Our ever-helpful French “ally”, Mr. Chirac, said yesterday that France would not allow any U.N. resolution that would put the U.S. and Britain in charge of Iraq while it’s rebuilt. He is perfectly willing to let people die of hunger and thirst, and to see Iraq split like Yugoslavia was, simply for French vanity.
Mr. Blair–so good in war, and such a disaster in Euro-diplomacy–is still pushing the President to cut the U.N. more slack in Iraq. It would be a huge mistake. I don’t think this George Bush is going to make the same mistake the first one did.
The President has designated today as POW Day. Remember those who are missing, and those who have been abused and murdered. Talk about it. And never forget.
There is too much to report, and most of it will have to wait for the morning. But now, as I write this, many of the most senior of Saddam’s henchmen are confirmed to be in Syria. The resort city of Latakia, with its beautiful beaches, now hosts them. And Syrian banks hold many millions that were looted from Iraq. Intelligence sources–the best of them–report that the Saddam regime’s top people and their families are now in Syria. It may be the top five or the top ten, but the traffic into Latakia from Baghdad over the past week or two has been very heavy. Beach? Someone needs to dial 1-800-SEALS and 011-44-207-SBS.
All are not smiling in Baghdad. Especially those who were members of the Baath party. At least one of them is dead, hanged by an angry mob. There is some popular revenge, and we may not be able to stop it. Our guys only hold about twenty-five percent of Baghdad securely.
Consider one fact: Oliver North confirms that of the “Saddam fedayeen” encountered so far, none–zero–have been identified as Iraqis. Among the ones who engaged the Marines, which means among the dead, there are Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Afghanis, and some from the UAE. But no Iraqis. Imported terrorists, not home grown. More tomorrow morning.