What the Hussein Brothers' Deaths Mean for Iraq

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Uday, left, and Qusay Hussein were killed in a U.S. military operation in Mosul. They are seen here with Saddam in 1992

Just when the U.S. desperately needed some good news out of Iraq, the special task force hunting for Saddam Hussein turned up, if not their top prize, the next best thing: The dictator's sons. Uday and Qusay, two of Iraq's most notorious tormentors (and, in Qusay's case, his political heir) were holed up in a house in the northern city of Mosul. Helped by the 101st Airborne, the task force stormed the house and, after a fierce firefight that lasted hours, the Pentagon reported that two of the four charred corpses found inside were identified as belonging to Iraq's second- and third-most wanted men.

The elimination of Saddam's widely feared sons will be a dramatic blow against the resistance that has plagued the U.S. occupation forces: Paul Bremer, Washington's viceroy in Baghdad has long insisted that the capture or killing of Saddam and his sons would break the psychological grip of the old regime on many Iraqis. Their deaths mark the sharpest signal yet that Saddam isn't coming back, and that he will eventually be found by the Americans. And that message will boost the confidence of those Iraqis inclined to work with the occupation authority, while demoralizing Baathist resistance fighters by eliminating two of their key political leaders and warning them that the capability of U.S. intelligence to detect Baathist leaders is growing. Equally important, it will provide an important morale-booster to U.S. troops straining under the weight of an often thankless mission.

Still, despite the blow of losing Qusay and Uday Hussein, nobody's expecting the still-intensifying resistance will suddenly abate. U.S. officials have said repeatedly they don't believe the attacks on coalition forces — averaging somewhere between 12 and 20 a day — are being directly orchestrated by Saddam and his family, but are instead carried out by cell structures organized on regional and local lines. Just last week, Centcom commander General John Abizaid warned that the resistance fighters were clearly digging in for a long fight, in which case they would have steeled themselves for the likelihood of sustaining significant losses — even Saddam himself. For that reason, some key events that played out in Washington and New York Tuesday will ultimately be as important to the future of Iraq as the raid in Mosul.

Even as U.S. troops were trading fire with Saddam's sons, Bremer was in Washington to urge Congress to substantially, and urgently, increase its commitment of money and personnel to the Iraq mission. An independent study of U.S. efforts in Iraq commissioned by Bremer and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld (downloadable from the Center for Strategic and International Studies) had already sounded the alarm last week, warning that the coalition's window of opportunity to remake Iraq on stable, friendly terms is closing fast. "The 'hearts and minds' of key segments of the Sunni and Shi'a communities are in play and can be won," the report noted, "but only if the Coalition Provisional Authority and the new Iraqi authorities deliver in short order." Saving the situation requires a dramatic turnaround in the security situation, and an urgent injection of funds and administrative personnel. Among other things, the report recommended that the U.S. occupation authority should:

  • Increase the U.S. presence: The U.S. needs to "reassess force composition and structure and troops levels" and notes that "the current configuration of composite security forces (U.S., coalition and Iraqi) does not adequately support the reconstruction mission"

  • Commission large-scale New Deal-style public works projects to get Iraqis employed, and slow down in the short term on the drive to privatize Iraq's economy because "many old state-owned enterprises are not competitive, but they are a major source of employment and should not be closed during this most unstable time"

  • Dramatically improve its communication with the Iraqi people

  • Quickly draw in a wider range of international allies on reconstruction

    In many of these areas, the report noted, "the United States will need significant international assistance — from the United Nations, other international organizations and bilateral donors."

    That conclusion squares with a growing mood on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill for a new U.S. effort to persuade reluctant allies to share the military and financial load in Iraq. While the Administration has gamely maintained that it already leads a broad coalition in Iraq, the truth is that the military contribution most of these allies make is negligible. Many of the countries whose armies are most capable — France, Germany and India, for example — have indicated that they will send troops only if the mission is mandated by the UN.

    There's growing support in the Administration and among lawmakers from both parties for doing just that. Secretary of State Colin Powell has held talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as European foreign ministers on seeking an additional UN mandate for an international force to back up U.S. troops in Iraq. But the political price will not simply be a few slices of humble pie for an Administration that had warned that the UN would become irrelevant if it failed to back the war. The consensus at the UN is likely to be for a significantly expanded role for the international body in supervising the political transition in Iraq.

    Of prime concern to the UN: Giving Iraqis an early voice in the creation of their government. The Security Council met Tuesday in New York to consider veteran Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira De Mello's report from Iraq, which urged that the U.S. offer a timetable for restoring Iraqi sovereignty. His report backs the Bremer-appointed Governing Council as the only mechanism to pursue that goal right now, but urges that its scope and powers be expanded, and that Iraqis be given more opportunity to choose their own leaders. De Mello has already played a major, if discreet, role in helping Bremer create the Governing Council. He reportedly serves as an honest broker between Bremer and constituencies in and around Iraq to which he has no access because of suspicion and hostility towards the U.S. De Mello, for example, reportedly played the major role in persuading some of the key Shiite parties to join the Council — and also in persuading Bremer to grant it wider powers.

    "Our collective goal," Annan said introducing the UN report Tuesday, "remains an early end to the military occupation through the formation of an internationally recognized, representative government." Achieving that objective is also, of course, the exit strategy that many on Capitol Hill are demanding, suggesting that despite the prewar tensions, the U.S. and UN may yet reach accord on, and in Iraq. And that news, together with the killing of the brothers Hussein, will be welcomed by most Iraqis.