What this means to the Iraqis

Posted: Dec 17, 2003 12:00 AM

I'm sure my sons and daughter will forever remember the sight of the tyrannical dictator Saddam Hussein in complete humiliation as an American service doctor picked through his mangy hair for lice. So will the millions who survived his hellish rule.

From the protected, privileged children in the United States, to the recently oppressed and impoverished children of Iraq, a generation of kids around the world now know that evil cannot last forever. The images of Saddam undoubtedly mean different things to these children who have lived very different lives, but the message is very clear to one and all: In the end, it is justice that prevails.

We cannot fathom the breadth and depth of emotions that the people of Iraq are experiencing at this moment. Certainly the soulful weeping of the Iraqi journalists at the press conference that unveiled the videotape of submissive prisoner Saddam provides us with a glimpse of the horror, fear and oppression these brave and stoic people had to endure. With an estimated 1 million Iraqi people brutally murdered at Saddam's hands, there's probably not a man, woman or child in Iraq who doesn't know someone who fell victim to the tyrant.

Intelligence reports indicate that 270 mass graves containing the bodies of so many unidentified men, women and children have yet to be explored. Their families still don't know where they are. The cries of the journalists – a rare outpouring of emotion by people for whom cynicism is a job requirement – were only the beginning of an outpouring of emotion certain to follow as families across Iraq finally will learn what has become of their long lost loved ones.

Tears of joy already have begun to flow in Iraq. Joy at knowing the horror is over. Joy at knowing a new life of freedom has begun. I smile at the thought of the many happy days that await the Iraqi people. I imagine them awakening each morning not quite sure where they are – at first fearful and afraid as they have always been, but as they awaken more fully, with the cloud of sleep clearing from their heads, they are at once joyous at the freedom they now can call their own.

This is not chess, however. Capturing the king does not end the game. Looking at Saddam crawling out of his hole in that disheveled state, it's hard to imagine that he alone has inspired the terrorism that has killed more American soldiers since President Bush declared an end to hostilities than during the war itself. As Peter Brookes, my colleague at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out in his weekly column for the New York Post, we can't yet know what effect Saddam's capture will have on the insurgents.

Even if the Fedayeen, the Baath Party thugs and the foreign jihadists who have poured into Iraq through its largely unguarded borders all take this news as their cue to lay down their arms, the war on terrorism will remain far from over. From the Philippines, where American soldiers are helping to ward off an insurgency led by Islamists, to Indonesia, a poorly policed nation of 3,000 islands that contains the world's largest Muslim population, to Pakistan, where President Musharaff recently survived an assassination attempt, to the troubled Middle East, to Africa and beyond, the war goes on.

Extremists who hate the freedom we hold dear, who resent the creature comforts we enjoy, who are rendered susceptible by poverty and despair to the hateful messages of their cynical leaders, plan our demise even as we speak. Where is Osama bin Laden? And what is he planning next?

As we look back on this, once again, we have to hand it to our military. People can debate whether our civilian leadership prepared adequately for the challenges of postwar Iraq. Should we have disbanded the Iraqi army? Should we have curtailed the looting sooner? What should our relationship be with the various clerics who claim control of some areas of the country?

But no one can say our troops haven't handled every task assigned them with professionalism, excellence, class and success. They disposed of the world's fourth-largest army in six weeks' time with minimal casualties. They secured the Baghdad airport sufficiently for President Bush to fly in and have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops.

Their precision munitions have made this perhaps the "cleanest" war in history. And their leadership has been nothing less than inspiring.

As Iraqi families go to bed tonight one step closer to living in a free and civilized nation, let us renew our pledge to support and pray for those who have made this possible – and who still have much to do.