Iraq’s real test begins

The American jubilation over Saddam Hussein’s capture and the hopes across the world that this will help pacify Iraq is very real and shows the importance of the event beyond that of the image of the vanquished enemy’s humiliation. But the joy and the relief are, in themselves, an admission that things have not gone at all well in Iraq. The initial plan was for Saddam to be killed during the invasion or caught soon after. That did not happen. Whether or not he was coordinating it, the resistance against the Americans and their allies grew stronger week by week. Saddam’s defiance, coming on top of that of Osama bin Laden, made the United States look like a giant with clay feet – able to smash its way into any country but unable to finish a job. Washington saw its allies and the United Nations suffer terrible blows, but at the same time it appeared impervious to the need to broaden the international community’s involvement in Iraq. Suddenly, Saddam’s capture appeared to be the antidote to all the poison. There is no doubt that his months in the shadows served to keep alive the possibility of his return. This may have inspired resistance fighters and may also have kept many Iraqis neutral. Now it is likely that resistance fighters – whether home-grown or foreign – will be isolated by the majority who will want to get on with their lives. President George W. Bush has been strengthened both at home and internationally by a victory made sweeter by its delay. But this is also the time that America’s occupation of Iraq and the whole idea behind the invasion will be tested. With Saddam out of the way – like Cavafy’s barbarians – it is as if the experiment of regime change and pre-emptive war begins today. We will soon see if Saddam alone was the obstacle to Iraq’s peace and prosperity or whether there are just too many variables in America’s involvement in Iraq for there to be such a simple solution.