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Media General News Service


June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Ordinarily, the U.S. Senate is so far out of touch with the daily ebb and flow of events it has all the urgency of an undiscovered tomb.

But for just a few hours, watching Tuesday's session was like a glimpse into the war room, complete with the news bulletins and diplomatic cable traffic.

The mutilation deaths of two U.S. troops in Iraq came just as the Senate was voting on an amendment criticizing a reported Iraqi proposal that would have granted amnesty to those who kill American forces. Somehow, those two brutal deaths brought the war home and into the Senate chamber in a way that hadn't quite happened before.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., choked out his words as he tried to describe the latest CNN bulletins about the condition of the bodies of the two Americans. The Associated Press said it best in Arabic. The word "nahr," used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat, was used by the group that announced the killings in an Internet posting.

Nelson's anti-amnesty amendment, before it passed, was watered down by Senate Republicans to make it clear that no interference with Iraqi sovereignty was intended and the Iraqis should be allowed to proceed "with their own wisdom." Nelson said he could not find any wisdom in amnesty for the killing of U.S. troops.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., was handed a late report from the State Department with assurances from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad that a new reconciliation plan had just been worked out. Apparently, any amnesty in Iraq will make no distinction between Iraqi and American troops.

Both houses have been debating the war. And, to the extent that speeches and votes can measure these things, Bush has majorities behind him in the Republican-run Congress for his notion that "it is vital for the Iraqi people to know with certainty that America will not abandon them after we have come this far."

In a moment of candor recently, President Bush seemed to regret having said "bring it on" and ""wanted dead or alive."

But by last weekend, some of the old hubris had returned to the Oval Office. In his weekly radio address, he couldn't resist saying it was "an incredible feeling to stand in the cockpit of Air Force One and watch the pilot steer us in toward Baghdad."

Although his approval ratings have plunged to historic lows, Bush did not hesitate to ask Americans to hold on in Iraq indefinitely.

"More sacrifice and continued patience," the president pleaded, as he described the dramatic flight to Iraq after the death of al Qaeda terrorist Abu Masab al-Zarqawai to meet with al-Maliki and the new democratic leadership of Iraq.

In some ways, patience is running out both over here and over there.

The new Iraqi leadership has been sending subtle message that it will soon be time for the Americans to go. The longer that U.S. forces stay in Iraq, the more they are going to be viewed as oppressive intruders by the Iraqi people.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post this week that said Iraqis who joined the "resistance" may be anxious for Americans to leave. They "see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be," he wrote.

When coalition forces are removed, it "will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of the people" and strengthen it.

He talked of a gradual drawdown ending in 2007. That will make it easier for the new government domestically, but also in its relations with its neighbors who see coalition forces as occupiers. Presumably, he was talking about Iran and Syria.

Americans and other foreigners, who are soldiering on, are facing not only the barbarous al Qaeda but an active insurgency and a less sympathetic Iraqi government.

It is clear that some in the Iraqi government regard assaults on American troops as an act of homeland defense and wanted it to be part of a national reconciliation plan.

"The Senate needs to go on record and tell the Iraqis that their plan is unacceptable," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said.

It did not quite do that.


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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