[OUTLOOK]One head is cut off ― two to go“We’ve got him!,” were the triumphant words of Paul Bremer, America’s chief civil administrator, when announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein after a long and frustrating search. Let’s make no mistake about it: The success of General Odierno’s and his 4th Infantry Division was a tremendous boost in morale ― as well as of President George W. Bush’s reelection chances. But one of the U.S. officials involved in the operation asked the right question: “Have we actually cut the head off the snake, or is he just an idiot hiding in a hole?”
The best answer is this: The snake is like one of those mythical monsters with not one, but three heads. When Adolf Hitler committed suicide, that was the end of the resistance; less than three weeks later, Nazi Germany had capitulated for good. But the capture of Saddam Hussein, the worst despot since Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, is just one down, with two more to go.
With the Saddam Hussein myth gone, so is his highly personalized regime of terror that consisted essentially of a gang of thugs drawn from his Tikriti clan and dressed up as a “socialist” Baath party. But the two other heads of the snake continue to strike, as the escalation of the terror against coalition forces and their own people so brutally demonstrates.
Who are the two other heads of the snake? One is the Sunni Arabs, a minority of about 15 percent of the Iraqi population with traditionally 100 percent of the power. Ever since Iraq became nominally independent in 1920, the Sunnis have ruled the rest ― over Kurds (20 %) and the Shiites (60 %). Whether under the monarchy or the dictatorship, Sunni rule was cruel and bloody ― as a whole slew of (brutally suppressed) revolts show. Most recently, in 1988, 5,000 Kurds died from poison gas in Halabja; in 1991, 300,000 Shiites were killed in revenge for their uprising after the first Gulf war.
Naturally, the Sunni Arabs, the underpinning of the Baath regime, want to hold on to their old privileges. But remembering what they did to the Kurds and the Shiites, they also fear bloody retribution. Hence, they redoubled their terrorist efforts in the wake of Saddam’s capture.
The second head of the snake is “Terror International,” the foreign “jihadis” from as far away as Europe who have crossed into Iraq not to fight for the Iraqi people, but to deal a decisive and humiliating blow to the United States. Like al-Qaeda, they want to drive the “crusaders” from the Middle East and finish the experiment in democratization for the next hundred years.
How could the United States deal with these two heads of the snake?
There is nothing the United States can do but to defeat the terrorists who believe in a corrupt version of Islam and think that they are serving Allah’s wishes. But that war to the finish will be made easier if the United States changes its strategy toward the Sunnis. It has to include carrots as well as sticks.
If people fight because they fear for their lives in an Iraq dominated by Kurds and Shiites, give them reassurances and guarantees. Give them a constitution that enshrines minority rights in a federal construction. Go even further: Promise to them that you will physically protect them against retribution from Kurds and Shiites. And show them the stick at the same time: If you continue to terrorize our troops and your own population, we will be ruthless in fighting back.
Compared to November when U.S. forces acted as if shocked into inaction by the explosion of violence, they have changed military strategy. Instead of absorbing blow after blow, they are going after the Sunni strongholds in places like Samarra and Falujah. But the carrots are still missing ― promises of protection and minority rights for the Sunni Arabs.
Another part is still missing, too: legitimacy. It is high time that the United States brought in the international community to lend more legitimacy to what is today essentially a lonely fight by Americans and Britons. This is why it was not so smart for President Bush to exclude Germany, France, Canada and Russia from bidding for contracts in the reconstruction effort. Yes, they had opposed the American war, but if you need precisely those nations to forgive huge Iraqi debts to them, it is less-than-wise to punish and provoke them.
* The writer is editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate at Harvard University’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies.
by Josef Joffe