Tipping point in Iraq
Published in: Daily Mail
The capture of Saddam Hussein is absolutely tremendous news, a great day for the people of Iraq and for everybody who believes in life and freedom and the need to fight to preserve them.
A mass murderer, responsible for a regime of hideous and barbaric cruelty, is now to be brought to justice, tried and sentenced -- as he must be -- by the people he enslaved. And a significant player in world terrorism who menaced the security of the west has at last been removed from that terrifying picture.
The discovery of the former dictator in his underground hole is of enormous military and political significance. At a stroke, the dynamic within Iraq has been transformed. For despite the ostensible military victory in the spring, the war did not end there. For the second time, the US-led coalition had merely scotched the snake, not killed it.
It let Saddam get away in 1991 after the liberation of Kuwait, allowing him to run rings round the world over his weapons of mass destruction programme. When it finally went to war again last spring, it toppled his regime but found he once again slipped through its fingers.
The result was that the Iraqis simply didn't believe he had gone forever. When people have been subjected to a tyranny as all-embracing as Saddam's regime, the terror does not begin to disappear unless the tyrant is captured and visibly removed from the stage.
And indeed, he had not gone, since attacks by Saddam loyalists continued. Just a few hours before news of his capture, a car bomb killed 17 people at a police station near Baghdad. Such a terrorist insurgency was precisely what Saddam himself had threatened: that if he lost the conventional war, he would go underground and fight a war of attrition.
Whether he was actually still directing murder operations against the coalition forces, or whether Saddamite terrorists were merely drawing inspiration from the fact that he was still at liberty, the former dictator continued to cast a poisonous shadow over Iraq.
Many Iraqis therefore remained far too terrified to bring the coalition useful information, and even some captured Iraqi officials undoubtedly remained silent in either hope or fear that Saddam might eventually emerge victorious once again.
Now that shadow has finally been lifted, and the joy of the Iraqis is plain for all to see. Only now can they properly emerge from the nightmare through which they have lived. The psychological importance of this event cannot be overestimated. The Saddamite insurgents are now truly leaderless. Maybe they will now lay down their arms; and maybe those who have important information will at last come forward.
And of course, there are hopes that Saddam will himself finally answer the great questions arising from his record: in particular, the true state of his WMD programme, and what he did with the WMD material for which he refused to account to the UN. According to security sources, the whole lot could be stored within an area no bigger than an American two-car garage, so it could easily have been hidden in Iraq or in a neighbouring Arab state.
But there is no guarantee that Saddam will spill the beans on any of this. Why should he, since the absence of such evidence has done so much to weaken the coalition through internal dissent? And hugely significant though his capture undoubtedly is, this is by no means the end of the war in Iraq, let alone the wider war against terror.
For Saddam's loyalists are not the only people wreaking havoc within Iraq. Iran and Syria are also major players in the terrorism that continues there. Saddam's arrest, and the resulting increased likelihood that Iraq will now move towards peace and prosperity, might even provoke them to step up a terrorist campaign whose purpose is to frustrate precisely that objective for fear it destabilise their own tyrannical regimes.
If Iraq is to be stabilised, much depends on how this new situation is handled. It offers the coalition the chance of regaining an initiative that has been greatly endangered by the serious blunders made in post-war Iraq by the US administration, paralysed as it has been by internal fighting between the State Department and the Pentagon, with President George W Bush playing shuttlecock in the middle.
In particular, it should now put the squeeze on both Iran and Syria, both of whose regimes - along with other Arab leaders - will have been severely shaken by the capture of Saddam whose ability to call the shots (both literally and figuratively) against the west gave him near-mythic status. The US has already imposed sanctions on Syria in order to pressurise it to end its sponsorship of terrorism -- which is doubtless why Syria is now calling for a 'clear, constructive and reasonable dialogue' with America.
As for Iran, seen by many as the very pivot of the terror infrastructure, America should not only stand fast against its development of the nuclear bomb; it should also actively assist the majority of its people who wish to be freed from the tyrannical regime imposed by their rulers, but who need practical support and encouragement if they are to bring about its fall.
Beyond all this, however, al Q'aeda still remains to be dealt with. There is increasing evidence that Saddam - whose involvement in Arab terrorism over the years has never been in doubt -- was involved with al Q'aeda as well. Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph reported a top-secret memo published by Iraq's coalition government which linked Saddam's regime to Mohammed Atta, the al Q'aeda mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.
This follows the leak of a memorandum by the American defence department to the Senate intelligence committee which detailed astonishingly intricate links between Saddam and al Qaeda going back to 1990. It said they had a relationship that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps, Iraqi financial support and safe haven in Iraq.
But al Q'aeda is a complex global network of terror, and if Saddam was involved he was merely one of its players. His removal only points up the failure to catch Osama bin Laden, and the still baleful threat of further atrocities by his outfit.
Saddam was not merely a bad man to his people but also - whether or not he was involved with al Q'aeda -- a significant weaver of the intricate web of the terrorism that threatens all of us.
Now finally he has been stopped. That's a cause for rejoicing, and a potential tipping point. But no-one should be under any illusions that terrorism in Iraq, let alone the rest of the world, will now cease. Instead, Saddam's arrest offers America its biggest - but possibly, its last - chance to get the peace in Iraq back on track and worldwide terror ultimately defeated.