IRAQ: `We got him!` Now what?
Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi

The capture of Saddam Hussein is being touted by the coalition authorities in Iraq as a victory and a sign of progress for Iraq.

But while the event certainly has important symbolic value for the many Iraqis who suffered so terribly under Saddam`s dictatorship, it changes nothing on the ground for a people now living under a chaotic, dangerous occupation. Indeed, the capture of Saddam Hussein could turn out to be bad news for US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

For jubilant Iraqis, a dark era in their lives and in their country"s history has come to a close.

But unfortunately, their joy will not alleviate dire poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, lack of health care, destroyed schools, water shortages, failing electricity, fuel scarcity; it will not rebuild an entire infrastructure destroyed by allied bombing and UN sanctions; it will not restore a national economy up for sale to the highest (or only) bidder; nor will it ease the heavy-handedness of a US occupation force with little understanding or concern for Iraqi lives, or hopes and losses.

The administration in Washington was so keen on war that it forgot, or didn"t care, to plan for peace, ignoring its shallow promises of a better life for the Iraqi people, who were freed from one set of miseries to be shackled with another by experimenting outsiders playing God with their futures.

Bush and Blair have long claimed that Saddam"s capture would take the steam out of the resistance. They assumed, naively and against the advice of officials and generals on the ground, that Saddam was still running the show. In the event, they unearthed a haggard, disoriented old man caught sleeping and alone in a small dirt hole hardly a model resistance leader.

They assumed, against the evidence of reporters who interviewed resistance leaders and fighters, that those fighting were doing so primarily in his name, in the ludicrous hope that he would return to Baghdad to rule once again.

They assumed, simplistically and inaccurately, that Iraqi opposition to Saddam would translate into blind support for occupation. Remember the laughable expectation that Iraqis would greet their "liberators" with roses? Remember the fanfare following the killing of Saddam"s sons? How quickly these petered out into obscurity.

The resistance will not vanish, and Saddam"s capture will not be the answer to the Bush-Blair dreams, because they have willfully ignored and belittled a proud people"s widespread opposition to occupation not least by a country who for decades supported the tyrant who brutalized them, then bombed a prosperous, educated society into the third world, and maintained sanctions that punished everyone except their ostensible target.

The resistance will continue, and Bush and Blair will be left to find another bogeyman, another sorry excuse for the chaos they have sowed. But this will not stop the opening of eyes to an insurgency quite separate from Saddam.

The masses who are against the occupation of their country will still be against it. Those suffering under the current mismanagement will still suffer in fact, Saddam"s capture may focus their minds still more clearly on their daily plight. And those peripheral elements who fought for Saddam may well continue to do so with renewed vigor, out of revenge.

All in all, Bush and Blair may soon wish they had kept Saddam on the run. That way, they could have continued to heap blame on his persona.

Now the blinkers are off. Saddam"s capture is certainly a good thing, not least because Bush and Blair have one less reason to stay in Iraq, and because it may well cripple the propaganda machine built around Saddam in order to obscure the very legitimate, serious, and obvious grievances that lie behind Iraqi opposition to occupation.

Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi is the chairman of Arab Media Watch in the United Kingdom. Courtesy of Media Monitors.