'We're On the Right Track'

Major-General Ray Odierno was commander of the 4th Infantry Division, whose soldiers captured Saddam Hussein in a "spider hole" just outside of Tikrit a year ago. Major-General Odierno, now assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to NEWSWEEK's Eve Conant about the Iraqi insurgency, the shortage of armor for U.S. vehicles and why Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will be harder to catch than Saddam.

NEWSWEEK: What did it feel like when you knew your guys had snagged Saddam?

Major-General Ray Odierno: My first thought was: yes! We've got this guy off the streets. Iraqis no longer have to fear him. Finally they'll be able to get out from under his thumb. We had been waiting for that moment. It got a bit frustrating each time we thought we had him but didn't.

About a month later you declared that the insurgency was "on its knees." What went wrong?

To be honest, I'm not sure. Those few months after we captured Saddam we saw the number of attacks against U.S. forces drop. Things looked like they were shaping up, we were starting new projects. Saddam was such an icon: people were always afraid he'd come back and grab power again. We thought with him gone things might stabilize. Maybe we tried to hand things over to the Iraqi forces too early.

What was it that helped you get Saddam?

I call it the human intelligence environment. You have to understand that people [in Iraq] are not bound by formal ties, but by tribe or religion or family. You have to work along those lines, and you have to work fast because your window of opportunity is usually pretty small.

So if you got Saddam, what about Zarqawi? Why haven't U.S. forces been able to catch him yet?

Saddam was on the run ever since the regime fell, he didn't have an established network. Zarqawi does, and it's easier for him to move around. Also, Saddam was a legendary figure--everyone recognized him. A lot of Iraqis don't necessarily know what Zarqawi looks like, so you'll get fewer 'sightings.'

Isn't there also more hatred for the United States now, so fewer people would want to turn him in?

Sometimes I think the anti-Americanism is blown out of proportion. There are a lot of Iraqis who do support what we're doing. The problem is intimidation, that's a new tactic of the insurgents. We have to work on that.

Why hasn't there been enough armor for U.S. troops in Iraq?

First of all, we've made some real progress in response to the insurgency. The problem was that we did not make assessments for small roadside bombs targeted at light-skinned vehicles. In the summer of '03 we already started with a program to "bolt-on" more armor. Things are improving.

What will it take to end the insurgency now?

I think there will always be some level of insurgency in Iraq. There has been for the past 30 or 40 years. What we need is for the level of the insurgency to come down. I think right now you're seeing a last ditch effort by people who are wealthy, who have always been on top, to keep their position. Things will be more clear after the election. We're on the right track.