BAGHDAD, Iraq - When Saddam Hussein was caught a year ago Monday, looking old and worn with a scraggly beard, there were many in U.S. military and government circles who predicted the capture would stem the brewing insurgency in Iraq.
"With the arrest of Saddam Hussein, there is a new opportunity for the members of the former regime, whether military or civilian, to end their bitter opposition," said L. Paul Bremer, then the U.S. top administrator in Iraq. "Let them now come forward in a spirit of reconciliation and hope, lay down their arms, and join you, their fellow citizens, in the task of building the new Iraq."
Twelve months later, Saddam's capture is a distant memory. He sits in an undisclosed U.S. facility with no trial date set. In the meantime, bandits and rebels have kidnapped hundreds, car bombings have devastated neighborhoods, and insurgents continue to attack seemingly at will.
Many in Iraq say that the sense of promise felt by the American administration in Iraq after getting Saddam was yet one more sign of its fundamental misunderstanding of how to stop the insurgency. There was never any one man to be taken or battle to be won that would turn the tide, they say. Instead, such problems as lack of electricity did more than anything to fuel the insurrection, exacerbated by heavy-handed U.S. tactics.
"Many Iraqis thought that the Americans would bring democracy and freedom, so at first, most Iraqis did not support the resistance," said Salman al Jumaili, a political analyst at Baghdad University who has written extensively about the growth of the insurgency. "But they discovered the Americans are an occupational force, and a bad one at that - if there was some serious plan to end the occupation it would lead to the end of the resistance, because most Iraqis want to live in peace."
As long as there are 140,000-plus U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq, Jumaili said, the violence will continue.
Steven Metz, an expert on guerrilla warfare at the Army War College, said that while the U.S. military has done an efficient job of hunting down insurgents, that's a small part of the solution.
"Most of the problems that have emerged are due to the fact that insurgency is only 25 percent or so military and 75 percent political, economic, and psychological," Metz wrote in an e-mail exchange. "The dilemma is that no agency of our government is clearly in charge of and configured for those other vital efforts. The military has done what it can in those realms, but this is only a partial solution."
When soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division found Saddam hiding in a dirt hole outside the town of Tikrit, about 313 U.S. troops had been killed in action. As of Sunday night, at least 1,006 had lost their lives in military actions. More than 250 more have died in accidents and of other causes.
Sitting at an ice cream parlor near downtown Baghdad, a 72-year-old man who gave his name as Abu Mohammed rested his chin in his palm and considered the time that has passed since he saw Saddam on television, in U.S. custody, being checked for lice.
"The Americans did nothing for the Iraqis. In the past, the Americans would walk in the streets and talk with the people, but all that has disappeared," he said. "They are not welcome in the streets anymore."
At a nearby tailoring shop, the proprietor, Abu Mariam, shrugged his shoulders when asked about the effect of Saddam being behind bars.
"They got Saddam. So what?" he said. "Even though he's in the jail, the terrorists are still outside."
© 2004 Knight-Ridder