FALLUJAH, Iraq - American soldiers in the epicenter of Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led occupation reacted with delight Monday to the capture of Saddam Hussein but said they had no illusions about the future of their mission.
Soldiers at an 82nd Airborne Army base here were on heightened alert for reprisal attacks. Some were even guarding against possible attempts to grab U.S. personnel to exchange for Saddam, who was taken captive near his hometown of Tikrit on Saturday night.
"They might try to kidnap soldiers to do a swap or try to break out prisoners from our stockades," said Staff Sgt. Cary Ashburn, 37, of Marianna, Ark., on guard duty at a base here. "Tensions are going to be high around here for awhile."
Saddam's capture "could engender some desperation and hostility after the fact," Spc. Demond White of Houston said. At least three car bombs were reported in Iraq on Monday, the day after Saddam's capture by a 600-member squad of special coalition forces was announced.
The 4,500-strong 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne has suffered eight deaths and scores of casualties from hostile fire since last April, said the brigade's chief surgeon, Maj. Mitch Courtines.
The 50 patrols that the brigade sends out daily routinely encounter ambushes and roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices. The brigade's forward operating base base comes under frequent mortar attacks, soldiers said.
Soldiers say Saddam's capture was one of the few positive events for the U.S. occupation in recent months - one they hope could be a turning point in the effort to win Iraqi hearts and minds.
The capture will give a morale boost to soldiers because "one more bad guy has been taken down," said Spc. Adam Hahn, 20, of Denver. was receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds he sustained in a roadside bomb explosion in Ramadi on Dec. 12.
"It's like a big burden off our shoulders. We figured he was alive and directing the resistance with a big force," said Spc. Roberto Dal Porto of Alhambra, Calif. "This might make Iraqi people feel happier and make our jobs easier."
Capt. Debra Sullivan, an army nurse, said: "It's a huge deal because it shows we are gaining ground in the war."
The majority of soldiers interviewed said they thought that Saddam's capture would have little impact on the duration of their tours of duty and that they were bracing for a long, hard fight.
"We were afraid he would be another Osama bin Laden," said Sgt. David Heath of Phoenix. "We didn't want a second big guy to get away."