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Iraq is first problem to solve

February 17, 2008|By JONATHAN R. BURRS

The news that more than 70 people died and numerous others were wounded in two separate suicide bombings in Iraq on Friday, Feb. 1, should be cause for serious alarm.

American and Iraqi politicians immediately swung into damage control mode. Initial reports suggested that the bombers, two females, were recruited by al Qaeda in Iraq. However, within 24 hours of those reports; the propaganda machine was in full swing claiming that the two bombers were actually retarded. Interestingly, neither of these two women were so mentally challenged that they were unable to strap powerful bombs to their person, find their way to heavily populated areas, and detonate bombs at precisely the appropriate time to kill and injure a multitude of innocent people. Also, where did they get the bombs? A terrorist organization, or is the explanation that they were not too mentally challenged to build bombs, just too mentally challenged to avoid committing suicide and mass murder?

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Clearly if two women, regardless of their mental capacity, can cause this much damage in a single day, the surge of troops ultimately has had no impact on safety in Iraq. So what exactly does all this mean with regard to the purported success President Bush and other Republicans attribute to increasing the level of troops in Iraq by 30,000?

The truth is evident; the surge is yet another ineffective experimental strategy implemented by the Bush administration and designed to mislead the American public into believing marginal improvements in Iraq are being made, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Most Americans seem so preoccupied with the interesting and sometimes comical political antics during the primaries that not much attention is being paid to the continuing disaster unfolding with the U.S. military in Iraq. And while many of the brave men and women in the military indicate they wish to stay in Iraq until the mission is complete, when asked to define that mission, they cannot.

Over the years, since I left active duty, my travels have enabled me to maintain a few military friendships and develop new ones. This includes a diverse group of individuals ranking from private to general. These friendships largely influence my opinions with regard to current military affairs because of the light these men and women shed on the reality of the situation.

I recently presented several of my acquaintances with questions regarding the realities on the ground in places like Baghdad. The immediate rote response was, "mission's not complete yet." However, when asked to clearly define their mission, not one could adequately answer that question.

One acquaintance, a recently retired Marine Corp sergeant major, was very candid and straightforward in his belief that the government needs to bring the troops home from Iraq and focus more on Afghanistan and finding bin Laden. He has lost confidence in the ability of military and civilian leaders to adequately manage operations in Iraq, because they have no clear mission, and no viable strategy.

A second acquaintance I spoke with at length over the Christmas holiday had a slightly different point of view. While he generally agreed with the sergeant major regarding the lack of a clearly defined mission, he was more supportive of changing the current strategy, which uses a conventional force and tactics to perform police-type duties. He went on to explain the tactics of each insurgent group and how they were basically waiting for the U.S. military to leave the country, all the while attacking the "coalition" forces with a variety of unconventional tactics.

So I asked him straight up: "Give me an effective strategy and can I quote you in one of my articles." His strategy was simple; reduce the number of convoys in Iraq, thereby giving the illusion of troop downsizing and withdrawal.

He believed this would lure insurgents out of hiding if they believed the U.S. was beginning to leave the country. If this strategy proved an effective method for flushing out insurgents, then at least military decision makers would have a more realistic view of their enemy.

I understand most people are sick and tired of discussing the war, and would rather focus on other important issues such as Social Security, health care and the unstable economy.

However, we as a country must demand that our government leaders, current and future, resolve the debacle in Iraq. With the very life of our country "hanging in the balance," Social Security and health care have no chance of improving and no economic stimulus package will help the economy. While Americans focus on making history by electing the first female or first African American as president, the war is still being severely mismanaged.

Will yet another commander in chief take the helm lacking clear understanding and direction, during such a critical moment in U.S. history?

Jonathan R. Burrs is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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