Viewpoint: Iraq war grinding on

We were told the war in Iraq is over. That claim is false. The war is just beginning, and no one knows how long it will last.

In the 50 days or so since President Bush declared combat operations at an end, another 50 American soldiers have died. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the worse it will get. The administration has grabbed the tar baby and can’t get loose.

Inept planning or a lack of planning for the post-Saddam era in the country, combined with cultural ignorance on both sides and a frustrated and disillusioned military force just beginning to realize it was lied to, is producing an emerging tragedy.

The troops don’t understand. A sergeant in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division told the Washington Post: “What are we getting into here? The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn’t in power any more. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?”

Mostly these are American kids in their 20s. They are puzzled that the local people don’t speak English, they can’t get a cheeseburger, and the Iraqis don’t find Americans attractive and charming.

The London Evening Standard talked with a number of these young warriors in many parts of Iraq. Their comments are jolting and revelatory.

“You can’t distinguish between who’s trying to kill you and who’s not,” said Sgt./1c John Meadows. “Like, the only way to get through s#@* like that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting home,” he added.

That was a common complaint of the grunts in Vietnam; they couldn’t tell who was the enemy, either.

Specialist Anthony Castillo said: “We’re more angry at the generals who are making these decisions and who never hit the ground, and who don’t get shot at or have to look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out bodies, and the dead babies and all that kinda stuff.”

Corporal Michael Richardson is only 22. He said matter-of-factly: “There was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who were not in uniform. I just pulled the trigger. It was up close and personal the whole time, there wasn’t a big distance. If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or not. Some were, some weren’t.”

Comments of that kind may be shocking to some of us, but that’s because we only saw the Disney war, all neat and sanitized, nicely packaged with lots of flag-waving hype. We never saw the reality like these young men. They will never be the same again.

Sgt. Meadows commented: “For me, it’s like snapshot photos. Like pictures of maggots on tongues, babies with their heads on the ground, men with their heads halfway off and their eyes wide open and mouths wide open. I see it every day, every single day. The smells and the torsos burning, the entire route up to Baghdad, from 20 March to 7 April, nothing but burned bodies.”

Specialist Bryan Barnhart, 21, agreed. “I also got the images like snapshots in my head,” he said. “There are bodies that we saw when we went back to secure a place we’d taken. The bodies were still there, and they’d been baking in the sun. Their bodies were bloated three times the size.”

In the town of Fallujah, strongly pro-Saddam, children hurled rocks at our troops. Sgt. Adrian Quinones observed: “You wanna turn round and shoot one of the little f*#@s, but you know you can’t do that. Their parents know if they came out and threw rocks, we’d shoot them. So that’s why they send the kids out.”

Sound like the Gaza Strip or the West Bank? It’s becoming the same kind of thing—a quagmire.

Members of the British Parliament were appalled to learn of U.S. troops shooting civilians and said they are creating a “cycle of hatred and revenge.” The MPs faulted President Bush.

Bush, they said, “failed in his responsibility to prepare properly for the occupation of Iraq when Saddam Hussein had gone. Mr. Bush never told his army or his people what to expect.

“The result is the terrible and growing toll of casualties of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, and a cycle of mistrust, hatred and revenge reminiscent of Vietnam,” according to Graham Allen, a Labour Party leader and anti-war activist.

On this side of the Atlantic, Sen. Richard Lugar, (R-Ind.) chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned the president he is on the brink of catastrophe with his policy in Iraq.

Writing in the Washington Post, Sen. Lugar said Mr. Bush should clearly state “that we are engaged in ‘nation-building’. I am concerned that the Bush administration and Congress have not yet faced up to the true size of the task that lies ahead, or prepared the American people for it,” he said.

Sen. Lugar said the rebuilding of Iraq may cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion. Congress has approved a mere $2.5 billion.

Some congressmen are sharply questioning the administration’s strategy and planning. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., asked Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense: “When is the president going to tell the American people that we’re likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, 10 years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars?”

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., stated: “Answers from the administration about the scope of the job, and the likely requirements in terms of U.S. manpower, resources and time, remain vague at best.”

While the debate goes on, the mistakes in Iraq will continue. The results, in Iraqi eyes, are predictable. They are symbolized by a sniper they call “The Hunter.”

“He is fighting for Iraq on his own,” said Assad al Amari, a Baghdad resident. “There will be many more Americans killed because they cannot stop The Hunter. He will be given protection of people who will let him use their homes for his shooting.”

So what will our sons, daughters and husbands be dying for? If Weapons of Mass Destruction aren’t the reason we invaded, and ousting Saddam was not the primary goal, and liberation of the Iraqi people is not the basis, what is left?

Wolfowitz has admitted we invaded for the oil. Peak oil is the reason for spilling American blood.

Sgt. Meadows finds the entire thing of little value. “I don’t care about Iraq one way or the other,” he said. “I couldn’t care less. (Saddam) could still be in power and, to me, it wasn’t worth leaving my family for, for getting shot at and almost dying two or three times; there’s nothing worth that to me,” he said.

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