The 'Republic Of Fear' Is Dead

In his wrenching book on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the dissident writer Kanan Makiya explained that the most powerful force keeping the cruel regime in power--more important than brute strength--was "an all-embracing atmosphere of fear." Aptly, Makiya titled his book "Republic of Fear." Saddam inculcated fear at every level, explaining, for example, that he would often deal with traitors pre-emptively because "I know a person will betray me before they know it themselves." Well, he apparently didn't know this time. The Iraqi who gave the final tip that led to Saddam's capture was only one of the hundreds of Iraqis who have begun cooperating with American troops. They might not love the Americans, but they hate the Baathists, and increasingly they are not scared. And after the events of the weekend, they will be even less scared.

I spoke with a senior administration official after the capture of Saddam, and the official confirmed that the Coalition's intelligence has been improving markedly. "People in Iraq tell us that cooperation has gone up in the last few weeks. So Saddam's capture fits a pattern. This is because of a variety of reasons. We've been getting better at making contact with locals. We've been getting better at coordination between intelligence and analysis. As a result, we have more actionable intelligence than before. But there's one other factor. Many Iraqis have been turned off by the insurgency. They don't want to live in this kind of country. And that's meant they've become more willing to talk."

As to whether Saddam's capture would cripple the insurgency, the official admitted it was difficult to say. "I've always thought that he was spending most of his time saving himself. We have no evidence that he was in contact with the insurgents. He didn't have elaborate communications gear with him when the troops found him." The real effect, the official agreed, was likely to be psychological. "In societies like this, the mystique of the dictator's powers is enormous. After Stalin died, for days people did not believe it. They couldn't imagine that he had actually passed from the scene."

I believe that this will cripple the insurgency over the long term. The guerrillas' strategy was not to win militarily. They could not do that with their pinprick attacks. They sought to win politically by conveying the impression that the Coalition could not stabilize Iraq, disheartening people in Iraq and within America. That psychological warfare just suffered a catastrophic setback.

If intelligence is getting better all round, it should have consequences beyond nabbing Saddam. "There's no question that the key problem we had was intelligence, so the fact that it is getting better should make a difference in the broader fight against the insurgents," the official explained. "And we hope this capture will further accelerate the pattern of intelligence cooperation. But by itself this is not going to solve the security problem. We will have to keep doing all the things we have to do anyway. And by itself it will not solve the political problems of Iraq, either."

If the Coalition's military strategy has taken a turn for the better, its political strategy also appears to be adjusting in one important dimension. Tony Blair used the occasion of his statement after the capture of Saddam to reach out explicitly to Iraq's Sunni community. The official confirmed that this is part of an attempt to "convince the Sunnis that they have an important place in the new Iraq." It's essential to future stability. "They used to be 20 percent of the country and had 100 percent of the power," the official explained, "and now they are 20 percent of the country and believe that they will have zero percent of the power. We had to demonstrate to them that that is not true."

The Sunni strategy will take three forms: improving security in the Sunni areas, creating money and jobs in those places, and including Sunnis in the political institutions of a new Iraq. "The problem," the official explained to me, "is that there are very few political organizations to work through. Saddam destroyed all of them. So we will help form professional associations, political parties, anything that helps them organize and advocate--as we will with all Iraqis." There have been some in the administration who have wanted to win first and worry about this political strategy later. That struck me as a mistaken approach because the political problem was feeding into the military one. It would appear that a more sophisticated strategy is now in place.

The official is correct to note that none of this will change the political problem in Iraq. It will not solve the very thorny issues that the transfer of power in Iraq has already begun to raise. But Saddam Hussein's capture is a great and pivotal event. The "Republic of Fear" is dead.