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Writer shares dark view of Iraq

April 27, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Ricks asked an audience of about 40 people Tuesday night to visualize a general in Washington as he looked out of his Pentagon window at the Potomac River, his mind plagued with problems.

That general is worried about "breaking the military" - hollowing out the force and hurting readiness and effectiveness.

He's worried about Iraq, where, for the first time in history, the U.S. military is occupying a country in the heart of the Arab world and likely will be there for years to come.

He's also worried about another major military action. In 1989, there was Panama. In 1991, the first Gulf War. In 1993, Somalia. In 1995, Bosnia. In 1999, Kosovo. In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, followed by an invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Every two to three years since the Cold War ended the United States has been involved in a small war, Ricks said.

What's next? he asked.

Speaking to an agreeable, well-informed audience, Ricks said that Iraq and the war on terrorism - costing the U.S. more than $1 billion a week - were not always the same thing, despite what President Bush claimed.

Now, however, they are the same because if the U.S. pulled out its troops, Iraq would almost certainly become a haven for terrorists, who could buy biological and nuclear weapons, he said.

The best-case scenario, Ricks said, is that a new government is installed in Iraq that wants the U.S. to remain.

The possibility of fighting extending beyond the borders of Iraq worries Ricks.

Those who hate the U.S. have not gone away, said Ricks, a reporter for The Washington Post who is on leave while he writes a book about Iraq.

"They will come back and come back hard. A civil war inside Iraq remains a real possibility," he said.

A civil war could draw involvement from several countries, including Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, he said.

"Talk about this long enough and you may find yourself thinking of August 1914," he said. "That's how World War I began."

Even that, he said, is not the worst-case scenario.

Look for headlines, he said, proclaiming that a new figure is emerging in Iraq. The new figure would be deeply religious, against corruption, the kind of man who would shoot one of his soldiers if he caught him raping a woman, Ricks said.

He would be strongly anti-American and possibly be of mixed heritage, meaning he could cross ethnic and tribal lines, Ricks said.

Such a figure, believed to possess the power to unite the country, could expel U.S. troops, buy weapons of mass destruction and knock Tel Aviv, New York and Washington "off the map," Ricks said.

Before answering questions from audience members, Ricks ended his discussion by asking the audience to again think of that general, whose worries are still not over.

There are other matters occupying his mind, including North Korea, Pakistan, and "wild cards" like Cuba and the possibility of another al-Qaida terrorist attack on the United States.

The first question from an audience member came from a woman asking Ricks whether he believes the draft will be reinstated.

It likely will not be reinstated if the situation remains status quo, Ricks answered. However, if another crisis emerges, a draft different than that implemented during the Vietnam War could take effect, he said.

He believes under the possible new draft, draftees could choose to serve in conflict for 18 months, or work on domestic matters for 24 months. They might be able to opt out of service altogether, but will run the risk of never being able to obtain a federal loan, including money for college, Ricks said.

Ricks also discussed the Kurds, recent elections in Iraq, the media, John Kerry, troop morale and Saddam Hussein.

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