Viewpoint: Iraq: the Internet war

American press reports on conditions in Iraq are distortions of reality in the eyes of the troops serving there. But there is a counterbalance. This is the first U.S. war that is hearing directly from the soldiers via the Internet, according to Britain’s The Observer.

Soldiers’ families, traditionally silent in time of conflict, are speaking out as well.

The newspaper quotes Susan Schuman of Massachusetts, whose son is serving near the town of Samarra in Iraq. That’s in the heart of the so-called “Sunni triangle” where GIs are regularly being shot and killed.

“I just want them to bring our troops home,” Schuman said. “I am appalled at Bush’s policies. He has got us into a terrible mess.”

Her attitude is typical of a growing number of Americans who are uneasy at the rising casualty rate in Iraq and many who are deeply angered at Bush’s plans to cut benefits for many soldiers.

GIs are especially blunt about conditions at their stations in comments made on the Internet.

Pvt. Isaac Kindblade of the 671st Engineer Company said: “Somewhere down the line we became an occupation force in (Iraqi) eyes. We don’t feel like heroes any more. The rules of engagement are crippling. We are outnumbered. We are exhausted. We are in over our heads. The president says, “Bring ’em on.” The generals say we don’t need more troops. Well, they’re not over here.

Col. David Hackworth, U.S. Army Ret., operates a Web site where he posts many of the complaints he receives from troops in Iraq.

Hackworth, a much-decorated combat veteran, has put the blame for the Iraq debacle squarely on Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, whom he has tagged with an anal appellation.

Hackworth charges that Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, badly bungled the job of planning the Iraq invasion. “He went in too light and on the cheap,” Hackworth said.

One of his GI correspondents complained: “We did not receive a single piece of parts-support for our vehicles during the entire battle—not a single repair part has made it to our vehicles to date. My unit had abandoned around 12 vehicles…I firmly believe that the conditions I just described contributed to the loss and injury of soldiers on the battlefield.”

The retired colonel thinks U.S. troops will be in Iraq for 30 years. He also thinks the bill is running closer to $6 billion a month rather than the $4 billion announced by the administration.

He told a reporter for The Guardian, a British daily, “Saddam is saying, ‘I am going to copy Ho Chi Minh and the Taliban and go into a guerrilla configuration.’ It [the invasion of Baghdad] did go Slam Bam Goodbye Saddam, but we are in there so light that we don’t have sufficient force to provide the stability after the fall of the regime.”

“We can’t secure the banks, the energy facilities, the vital installations, the government, the ministry, the museums or the library. The world was witness to this great anarchy, the looting and rioting that set over Baghdad. There was that wonderful quote by Rumsfeld. “Stuff happens,” he said. “He flipped it off.”

Erik Gustafson is a veteran of Gulf War I. He founded Veterans for Common Sense. “There is an anger boiling under the surface now, and I, as a veteran, have a duty to speak because I am no longer subject to military discipline,” he said.

An e-mail Gustafson received said simply: “Our men and women deserve to see their loved ones again and deserve to come home. Thank you for your attention.”

Even the normally quiet and conservative Army Times is sounding off. It plans another critical editorial this week. “The Army has had a rough couple of years with this administration,” said the editor-in-chief.

Mainstream veterans groups are planning to protest Bush’s cuts and so are many military families. Schuman is intent on joining Military Families Speak Out and traveling to Washington to make her case for bringing the troops home.

Hackworth sums up his feeling in unvarnished English. “In mid-April,” he said, “I wrote a piece that asks for Rumsfeld to be fired, to be relieved. I took enormous heat for that. He went in light, on the cheap, he has misunderstood the whole war, he should go. Rumsfeld is an arrogant a@#%$#@. That’s a quote, by the way.”

The “heat” now seems to be swinging toward the Pentagon and its crusty boss.

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