The 20-day ground offensive that ended with the fall of Baghdad on April 9 to U.S. forces was characterized as much by the levelheaded courage of the men who fought it as by its speed and brilliance of execution.
Its signature finish — the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue in downtown Baghdad — was celebrated in the streets of the city by thousands of Iraqis who drew that day the first breaths of freedom they had breathed in three decades.
Yet, for those standing in the streets of the city that bright April day, it was clear that the war was not over. The rampant looting and the sullen faces of angry young men with military haircuts standing in groups on the streets attested to the dangers ahead.
On the one hand, the Iraqi people's anarchic celebrations were testimony to the fact that these people, long enslaved, did not yet understand the responsibilities that accrue to free people. The angry gazes of the young men, calling out "We are all fedayeen," first in shouts, and then in muttered whispers as the American troops approached them, showed that while the battle was won, the war was far from over.
Saturday night's capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was another great victory in the war on terror, equal in importance to the fall of Baghdad.
The specter of Saddam's return to power over the past nine months cast a pall on the U.S.-led victory. His elusiveness together with the increasing violence of terror attacks led many Iraqis to question whether the U.S.-led Coalition would be willing to stay the course in their country.
Saddam's ability to remain at large bolstered his henchmen and empowered jihadists throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
The psychological impact on Saddam's loyalists and on terrorists around the world of the picture of the tyrant's dirty, mired face and meek complicity during his medical examination by a U.S. army doctor is immeasurable. Today they are forced to ask the question, "Why should we die when Saddam surrendered so abjectly?"
It has been argued that it was wrong for Americans to show such pictures of Saddam. Doing so, it was said, will enrage jihadists who will fight all the more desperately to regain the honor lost by Saddam's humiliation.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to take common sense into account. Saddam's surrender is a signal to his allies as much as to his victims. The former attain from this sight the beginning of understanding, that theirs is a lost cause. When Major General Raymond Odierno told reporters Sunday afternoon that Saddam "was caught just like a rat," he said that the tipping point has past.
In capturing Saddam, the U.S. went a long way to proving that it can be relied upon to win its war. In his surrender, Saddam showed that his loyalists, like his fellow dictators, will lose.
Saddam's victims, the Iraqi people, responded to the pictures with joy unmatched since April 9. They too, received the message. The humiliation of Saddam Hussein is not their humiliation. It is their victory.
And yet, the victory, though great, does not mean that the war is over. Just as the Battle of the Bulge followed the invasion of Normandy, so many battles still await the democratic armies arrayed against the forces of jihad.
The blasts in Baghdad and the attempted assassination of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf in the hours after the announcement of Saddam's capture are evidence of this truth. As U.S. President George W. Bush said Sunday, "The war on terror is a different kind of war, waged capture by capture, cell by cell, and victory by victory. Our security is assured by our perseverance and by our sure belief in the success of liberty."
Originally published in National Review Online.