Much has changed in the year since a haggard-looking Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the ground and taken into custody by jubilant U.S. troops.
In some ways, it has changed for the worse.
President Bush hailed the capture as a breakthrough at the time, saying he expected his arch foe to be tried, convicted and put to death — adding that that would be up to the Iraqi courts.
“In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over,” Bush declared in a television address the day after the capture Dec. 13. “A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq.”
But twice as many U.S. soldiers were killed by insurgents in the seven months after Saddam’s capture than in the seven months before, and thousands of Iraqis have died. There are growing fears that elections set for Jan. 30 could be derailed by the mayhem.
And Bush’s hoped-for trial of Saddam appears no nearer to happening, despite repeated pledges from Iraqi officials. Saddam and several of his former aides are on a hunger strike to protest pressure on the aides to testify against him, NBC News reported.
It all looked rosier when Paul Bremer, then the U.S. governor of Iraq, declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”
It was believed Saddam’s capture would put a dampener on the insurgency, depriving it of a figurehead and financier.
Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said at the time that Saddam’s detention had dealt the insurgency “a huge psychological blow” that would “pay great benefits over time.”
In the weeks that followed, evidence did seem to suggest that the guerrillas may have been set back. Attacks on U.S. forces dropped to about 17 a day from as many as 50 before.
Commanders grew confident that they were making headway.
In January, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, whose troops got credit for snatching the “Ace of Spades,” declared the insurgency to be “on its knees” and only a “sporadic threat.”
“I believe within six months, I think you’re going to see some normalcy,” he told the Pentagon news corps. The confidence was infectious.
“Systematically we have captured or killed the individuals directing the insurgency,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne, in March. “... The insurgency is pretty much in disarray, I think is the best way to describe it.”
Swannack was responsible for the volatile western region of Iraq, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. A month after he spoke, Fallujah fell into guerrilla hands and was wrested back only after a U.S. offensive last month.
Fighting continues. The insurgency has broadened and strengthened, attracting fresh recruits and finding new ways of striking U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.
Trying to try Saddam
Even in the capital, hardly a day has gone by without a car bomb or guerrilla attack. Some areas, including central Haifa Street, are insurgent strongholds.
Meanwhile, what has become of Saddam?
Iraqi officials said they thought he could be convicted and even executed by July. Saddam did appear in court that month and was informed of the general charges against him.
But since then little progress appears to have been made. The head of the special tribunal set up to try him, Salem Chalabi, has been replaced. Investigators are only beginning to sift through the evidence.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said in August that he wanted proceedings speeded up and said trials against Saddam and his senior henchmen should begin by the end of the year.
Officials at the special tribunal could not be reached for comment, but a U.S. Embassy official said he would be urging Iraqi authorities to prepare a statement for the anniversary of Saddam’s capture. It has been a long year.