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Analysis: Capture has few intel gains

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- What's clear from the initial video footage of the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is that this is not the evil mastermind at the controls of the resistance organizations that continue to harass the U.S.-led coalition.

Thus the immediate benefits enjoyed by the U.S. occupation from his surprisingly meek capture will be psychological in that it proves to the Iraqi people that the brutal despot will not return to power. But little practical or actionable information will come from the arrest to assist U.S. and coalition forces in their hunt for the anti-occupation guerrilla groups.

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Found in a 6-foot by 8-foot hole in the basement of a farmhouse in Adwan -- 10 miles outside his hometown of Tikrit -- Saddam had an entourage of two bodyguards, a handful of guns and $750,000 in U.S. currency. Clearly this was an operation designed to avoid capture by American troops, and not a mobile headquarters unit that has been behind the attacks that have killed hundred of coalition forces and pro-occupation Iraqis.

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Although the capture might convince former regime officials, who Iraqi resistance forces say are involved in organizing the attacks, to cooperate with U.S. forces if captured as they no longer need fear his wrath, it seems unlikely Saddam has any meaningful information on current operations.

The leader of an Iraqi resistance cell interviewed last month by United Press International seemed to have an inconsistent view of Saddam and his role. In several interviews, Abu Mujahid would alternately claim to be a former supporter of Saddam's, while arguing he would not support his return to power. But at other times, he described a resistance organization that had been put into place before the fall of Iraq and was operated by former Baath Party officials.

"We are told that Saddam might be at the top of the organization," he told UPI in late November. "I don't know if I believe that, but my colleague has seen Saddam.

"He comes to tell my colleagues to continue to fight. But we look at him as a strong leader. But we don't want him back."

But that colleague who claimed to have seen Saddam -- it was said at the scene of a roadside bomb attack in October outside the U.S. military base at Baghdad Airport -- also claimed that the former Iraqi leader had not changed his appearance since abandoning his capital in early April.

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The initial footage of a gaunt Saddam with wild hair and a long beard after his capture disproves this claim. But even at the time of the interview, Abu Mujahid sounded skeptical that Saddam was brazenly leading the resistance since his ouster.

"I think Saddam is too busy hiding," he said. "I think that the leaders above me are former generals who want to replace Saddam when the Americans leave."

He also made clear that while Baath Party officials -- who he said led the resistance -- might have, at one time, been loyal to Saddam, the invasion of Iraq had convinced many former supporters that though they want the Americans out, Saddam was not a good leader.

"We actually took a vote at a meeting last week," he said during the interview. "If the Americans leave and Saddam comes back, we will fight him too. Maybe if he were elected we'd allow it.

"But no one in Iraq wants Saddam back. He turned into a thief and a murderer who made too many mistakes. We don't want Saddam, but American cannot occupy us any longer."

With initial reports calling Saddam cooperative with his captors there stands to reason this could offer major intelligence benefits for the occupation, even if not in terms of fighting the resistance movements. The biggest benefits will come on two questions that have plagued the Bush administration since the fall of Iraq: What happened to the weapons of mass destruction that everyone was so convinced Saddam possessed, and what of the claims that Saddam's regime had serious working ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

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On the WMD point, Saddam's capture should lead to answers almost immediately. Saddam knows his run is over and any trial he faces at best will lead to life imprisonment. His only major success in 2003 was the embarrassment of the U.S.-led coalition when the much-discussed biological and chemical weapons were never delivered as promised by the invasion.

For a man with an enormous ego -- facing little chance of survival -- Saddam will be unlikely to resist the urge to brag about either how he deceived the world into believing he posed a threat with his WMD or to brag about how he hid such weapons. So there's little downside for him to cooperate on this issue, which will lead to an intelligence coup for U.S. forces.

On the second point, it seems unlikely he will see much point in cooperating, particularly when an admission of any substantive links to al-Qaida would justify an invasion in the first place. Saddam will have little interest in helping the U.S. justify the invasion on this front, plus there's a considerable chance that no such links existed and that his claims to that effect will be ignored.

However, his capture might lead to Baath officials already in U.S. custody cooperating more enthusiastically with their interrogators and could shed additional light on a host of important issues.

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