You Don't Change Horses in mid-Tigris

In Stephen Crane's novel on the American Civil War, "The Red Badge of Courage," one of the soldiers is proud to be called "a real Jim Hickey," which in those days meant something like "a great guy."

In Stephen Crane's novel on the American Civil War, "The Red Badge of Courage," one of the soldiers is proud to be called "a real Jim Hickey," which in those days meant something like "a great guy."

The character's namesake, Colonel Jim Hickey, commander of the First Brigade of the Fourth Mechanized Infantry Division, gave several interviews to the American media in recent weeks. Hickey repeated that his forces were tightening their strangle hold on Saddam Hussein, who was hiding in or near Tikrit. His answers to questions about the chase after Saddam were deemed ridiculous by those in the know. One pundit stated that Hickey was imitating the empty statements of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in an attempt to get into the secretary's good graces and win a place on his staff.

Two days ago, December 13, 43-year-old Col. Hickey, an expert in Russian, met someone who looked a little like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which barely justified the name of the operation to trap him, "Red Dawn," which was the name of a science fiction movie about a Soviet invasion of the U.S.

That Saturday marked six months since Hickey began serving as brigade CO, and like many U.S. commanders in Iraq today, he was not involved in the fighting in March and April. Hickey had previously been stationed in Europe, as had the commander of their Combined Joint Task Force Seven, General Ricardo Sanchez. With the end of fighting in Iraq in the spring, Sanchez was reassigned to Baghdad, where he took command of six divisions, four American, one British, and one international, under Polish command.

The British forces are stationed in the south, including Basra, and the Poles are to the north of the British. The four American divisions are responsible for the rest of Iraq, the 82nd west of the capital as far as the border with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the 101st in the Kurdish north, the First in Baghdad, and the Fourth, in the "Sunni Triangle," at the center of which is Tikrit.

This is a traditional form of deployment. The British army deployed like this in Palestine on the eve of World War II, with one division in the center and another, under the command of General Montgomery, in the north.

Hickey, in a structure similar to the IDF's in the territories, is commander of the Tikrit regional brigade. His headquarters were located in one of Saddam's palaces and his commander's Major General Raymond Odierno, were in another, and all Saddam could do was look longingly toward them from his hideout.

Special forces augmented Hickey's brigade for certain operations. These special ops sometimes involved arrests, sometimes attacks on guerrilla forces operating against the Americans.

They closed off areas and swept them meticulously sometimes violently, sometimes less so. The contradiction of occupation is that the longer it is in force, the more opposition it engenders, but at the same time, it gives intelligence forces the opportunity to dig in deeper and make useful connections while installing an advanced electronic listening network. Intelligence is important, but without the meticulous sweep, turning over every rock, it is not enough.

That is what happened two days ago, when Hickey reported to Major General Odierno that Saddam's hiding place may have been found (again). The forces were only informed that a "high-value target" had been pinpointed. Action was swift. At 10:15 A.M., his whereabouts were discovered from the interrogation of detainees from families close to Saddam, who had themselves been arrested over the past 10 days on the basis of intelligence information. At 6 P.M., after seven hours of planning and preparation, Hickey's forces moved in on their target, two locales in the area of a village south of Tikrit on the banks of the Tigris. At 8 P.M., they closed in on four square kilometers of a farm, and at 8:30 P.M., Saddam was captured.

The American PR reaction was just as swift. Paul Brimmer, U.S. administrator of Iraq, demonstrated one of the characteristics for which he was hired, the ability to create a sound-byte - "We got him" - that will be remembered and quoted, just like Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's "We have met the enemy and he is ours," in the War of 1812 against the British; like General Douglas MacArthur's "I shall return," when he retreated from the Philippines during World War II; like George Bush's "I was just looking for a hot meal," during his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad two weeks ago; and like Motte Gur's "The Temple Mount is in our hands," during the Six-Day War.

The camera documented Saddam as a 66-and-a-half year-old man undergoing a medical check-up, with his back to the wall, not desperate and suicidal, just up against the tile wall of some clinic. The choice of words was careful, "like a scared rat," a humiliating and shameful caption, like another prisoner who hid and was caught, Manuel Noriega in Panama.

Some will glean from the story of the swaggering leader, who wore a pistol but surrendered without a shot, that Yasser Arafat will behave in a similar manner if the operation to extract him from the Muqata is ever implemented. Another lesson will be the speed of the initiative to turn over a new leaf for those loyal to the previous regime that give up their opposition to the Americans, who want to go home but not before their mission is complete. Which of them will be foolish enough to sit next to the murderer of half a million Iraqis, in a trial that will overshadow even the U.S. Democratic presidential primaries?

Bush proved yesterday that determination and perseverance pay off, and therefore, you shouldn't change horses in mid-Tigris.

In the spring, Jim Hickey will return to his home base in Fort Hood, Texas, where he is sure to receive a hero's welcome.