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Finding the door knob in Iraq
Media General News Service


April 09, 2006

WASHINGTON - U.S. casualty rates in Iraq leveled to about one a day in March - better than any month in two years.

But 14 died in the first three days of April. The sight of the smoking body of an American helicopter crewman being dragged out of the wreckage by gleeful Mujahideen insurgents last week was posted on the Internet. In New England another young mother was left to raise her daughter alone.

A departing British general created a stir in Iraq when he said withdrawal of United Kingdom troops would begin in weeks and most could be home by summer. It proved to be a contingency plan based on many optimistic scenarios.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the British are thinking in terms of strategies to garrison their troops and turn matters over almost entirely to their Iraqi replacements. They are looking for the first opportunity to pull out.

Here, finding the right combination to bring the troops home without contributing to the enemy forces' resolve is on a lot of minds, but the administration is doing its best to hide it. The loyal opposition isn't very noisy either.

A few Wisconsin towns recently passed some non-binding resolutions demanding that the troops be brought back. Many war protesters say they are disappointed that the Democratic Party has not made a more concerted effort to forge a united position on how to end the war.

The party, instead, has focused its attention on the war on terrorism and defeating al-Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden. Recent polls indicate that Democrats are doing as well overall as the Republicans in this area. Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who heads the party's senatorial campaign committee, touted a recent survey by pollster Geoff Garin showing 41 percent trust Democrats on national security and terrorism issues compared with 39 percent for Republicans.

That is a dramatic switch, and it has caused Democrats to stress their commitment to a tough program of domestic security and a manhunt for bin Laden. But the party has been silent, as a group, on how to deal with Iraq.

A few individual members are coming forth on the war. The latest was Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential standard-bearer.

In a column written for The New York Times, Kerry called for the administration to lay down two demands on the Iraqi leadership: formation of a unity government by May 15 and agreement on a schedule for withdrawing American troops by the end of the year. Kerry said all Iraqi factions should be brought together in a neutral country and "compelled to reach a political agreement."

U.S. troops should be redeployed to garrison status to put maximum pressure on Iraqi leaders for cooperation, Kerry said. And they should be brought home altogether if the deadlines can't be met.

Kerry's plan is patterned partly after the Dayton peace accords for the Balkan states. But by and large, this is the first big-name Democratic proposal for a timetable to end the Iraqi conflict.

Until now, Democrats have agreed only that they were misled by faulty intelligence on Iraq's possession of unconventional weapons into supporting a war on fraudulent grounds.

Concepts about how to disengage from Iraq have been largely left to the administration. Yet the Pentagon, under Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, doesn't seem to be planning any change in its current game plan, which is to keep the troops there indefinitely.

Since some of the insurgents are vowing to fight until the American "infidels" are off of Muslim soil, Kerry argues, the war becomes self-perpetuating under the existing policy.

Last week, Rumsfeld said all of the delays Iraq is experiencing in forming a new government are normal, and he pointed out that a new American administration sometimes takes a while to get moving. It's elected in November but isn't inaugurated until January and then "takes months thereafter for the Senate to confirm presidential appointees."

These do not sound like words of a person who has a sense of urgency to complete the mission in Iraq or to put any pressure at all on the Iraqi leadership. It appears to be his intention to show the Iraqi insurgency that American forces are there to stay.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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