Iraq War Becoming a Quagmire

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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Iraq War Becoming a Quagmire

It was supposed to be a cakewalk for the American troops invading Iraq. The Iraqis were to throw flowers as the conquerors marched in and took over their country.

That was the fantasy of President Bush's advisers and they sold it to him. Those advisers were listening to the Iraqi exiles, who had an agenda that meshed with the hawks in the administration.

Now we know that while U.S. leaders may consider themselves "liberators," many Iraqis see them as invaders.

Reality is setting in. And the tragic events of recent days indicate we are going to be in Iraq for a long time and with a much larger presence than American officials had first planned for.

With hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis dead, the war is again grabbing the headlines. It was the ambush and murder of four American security company agents at Fallujah on Wednesday and the savage attack on their corpses that reminded Americans of the gruesome realities of Iraq.

The film of the mutilated bodies shocked Americans. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the murders "barbaric."

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said it was the work of "cowards and ghouls."

On the same day, some 15 miles away, five American soldiers died when a roadside bomb ripped through their armored personnel vehicle.

American companies that won contracts for the post-war construction of Iraq are finding that half the personnel they hire have to be security experts.

Appalled at the recent developments, two women senators are calling for more troops in Iraq to beef up the 150,000 American and coalition troops already on hand.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, both of whom voted to authorize President Bush to go to war, say the U.S. military presence has to be bolstered.

This recalls the prescience of Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, who warned before the war that the occupation of Iraq "would require several hundred thousand troops."

Shinseki was ridiculed by deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who called his assessment "wildly off the mark."

Hutchison told a Women's Foreign Policy Group luncheon Wednesday that more U.S. forces were needed in Iraq because "we have no options. Democracy cannot fail there."

Hutchison, chairwoman of the military construction subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, has urged that two more divisions be sent to Iraq, according to her aides.

Clinton said she agreed that more troops were needed and noted the continued rising cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is running about $5 billion a month.

"We're in somewhat of a pickle with reduced forces and no end in sight," she said. "We have a very dangerous road ahead."

Neither woman urged a restoration of the military draft. That would fall like a lead balloon in an election year.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the "despicable ... barbaric" acts in Fallujah will not deter the United States from its mission to transform Iraq into a democracy.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of military operations in Iraq, vowed "to hunt down the criminals" and said, "We will pacify Fallujah."

Sending in the Marines may temporarily quell the violence in the area dominated by Sunni Muslims, who were on top when Saddam Hussein was in power. The Sunnis are now in the minority, with the Shiites in the majority. The Shiites may have long memories of their treatment under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

But will the United States be able to win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis?

"We will stay the course," McClellan told reporters.

Again, echoes of the Vietnam quagmire.

Even when the reins of government are turned over later this year to the handpicked Iraqi interim government, some 100,000 troops will remain in the country to handle security during the transition to an elected government.

There is no word on a pullout of American troops. Some officials have speculated it will take a generation of occupation.

It will be a travesty if the war in Iraq does not become a priority issue for debate in the presidential election campaign. At the least, Bush and his likely Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, should tell us their thoughts on an exit strategy.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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