BAGHDAD, Iraq — The capture of Saddam Hussein, eight months on the run and found hiding in a hole beneath a two-room mud house near his hometown, was unlikely to destroy the anti-U.S. guerrilla insurgency, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday.
Saddam was captured Saturday night in Adwar, a village 10 miles from Tikrit. By early Sunday, only hours before news of his capture was announced in Baghdad, a massive blast killed at least 17 Iraqis, mostly policemen, and injured 33 at a district police office in Khaldiya, a town west of Baghdad.
Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier died south of Baghdad while trying to disarm a roadside bomb — a specialty of the resistance.
“We do not expect at this point in time that we will have a complete elimination of those attacks.” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters.
Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division troops that captured Saddam, said his forces found no telephones, radios or other communications devices in Saddam’s hideout, suggesting he had not been directing the insurgency as some had speculated.
“I believe he was there more for moral support,” Odierno said. “I don’t believe he was coordinating the effort because I don’t believe there’s any national coordination,” Odierno said.
Saddam ruled Iraq for 23 years and for most of that time his Baath Party regime was largely secular. That history had led some observers to suggest the post-Saddam insurgency was instead drawn from among Muslim insurgents who were fighting, not to restore Saddam to power, but to oust the Americans on religious grounds.
The insurgency has flared primarily in the so-called Sunni Triangle west and north of Baghdad and in the capital itself. Except for Baghdad, those areas are deeply tribal, with pockets of Muslim extremism and the traditional suspicion of outsiders.
U.S. troops are routinely referred to as “infidels,” “nonbelievers” or “Crusaders” in that region. Such terms carry heavy religious connotations in an Arab nation whose 25 million people had been fed a daily fare of anti-U.S. propaganda.
Iraqis also view themselves as a bastion of Islam and pan-Arabism. And that view had been bolstered of late by Saddam who has switched tactics, trying to align himself with Islam after his defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.
Whether rooted in secularism or religion, Saddam’s popularity in the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq has outlived his regime. His image as an unwavering champion of Arab rights and a brutal enforcer of law and order still find resonance among Sunni backers.
Sanchez said attacks now were down to an average of 20 a day, compared with the low 40s a month ago.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, speaking on CNN, also said guerrilla attacks were likely to continue, but added that Saddam’s capture would have a “demoralizing effect” on loyalists.
Ahmad Chalabi, once the Pentagon favorite to take over the leadership of Iraq after Saddam’s fall, predicted a brighter future with Saddam in custody.
“The dream of some people that the Baath Party will rule again is over now,” he told the television channel of the U.S.-led coalition.