Iraq quagmire echoes Vietnam

Talk of a U.S. quagmire in Iraq is mounting as attacks on U.S. and British soldiers ratchet upward.

A harrowing report in the London Evening Standard June 15 gives a graphic picture of traumatized American soldiers trapped in a Vietnam-like war among a hostile population.

“Sweltering in the heat of an unwelcoming Iraq,” a group of soldiers interviewed by the Standard revealed “the glazed eyes and limp expressions of those who have witnessed a war they do not understand and have begun to resent.”

Said Specialist Anthony Castillo, “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.”

The soldiers told of killing civilians and leaving others to die in agony.

“You can’t distinguish between who’s trying to kill you and who’s not,” said Sergeant First Class 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.”

The death of a U.S. soldier in a grenade attack on an American military convoy last Sunday brought to 56 the number of U.S. troops killed in the seven weeks since President Bush declared active fighting over on May 1. Accompanying the deaths are growing numbers of wounded.

On Tuesday, six British soldiers were killed in an ambush, marking the first major attack against British troops since the “fall of Baghdad” on April 9.

More than 90 American soldiers have been killed – more than one a day – in the ten weeks since April 9, according to Reuters. A total of 138 U.S. troops died during the “active war” between March 20 and April 9.

An Associated Press poll released June 23 showed a sharp rise – 16 percent in two months – in Americans who said the level of U.S. casualties in Iraq was unacceptable.

Bush was forced to address the mounting casualties in his weekly radio talk last Saturday. Responding to what the White House admitted were “growing questions about why we went in [to Iraq], and what we are doing there,” Bush blamed resistance to the U.S. occupation on leftovers of the Saddam Hussein regime.

But a respected U.S. military leader, Maj. Gen. William Nash, contradicted Bush’s assertion, saying the administration had “failed to understand the mindset and attitudes of the Iraqi people and the depth of hostility towards the U.S. in much of the country.” He told the British Observer the attacks on U.S. troops represent “a confluence of various forces which channel the disgruntlement of the people.” Nash, now retired, served in Vietnam and the Gulf War and commanded U.S. forces in Bosnia.

With the situation increasingly out of its control, the U.S. launched a mass roundup of Iraqis two weeks ago to “isolate and defeat noncompliant forces.’’ Amnesty International charged that more than 2,000 Iraqis are being held without access to their families or lawyers. The roundup appears to have had no impact on the level of attacks. In recent weeks, in addition to attacks on occupation troops, oil and gas pipelines and electric power installations have been blown up.

Top Pentagon officials indicated last week that U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for as long as ten years. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, facing questioning by the House Armed Services Committee, did not specify how long U.S. forces would stay in Iraq, but they did not contradict committee members who said the occupation could last a decade or more. Pace told the committee that the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq – now just under its peak of 151,000 – will not be reduced in the foreseeable future.

These remarks were among the latest signs that the Bush administration is enmeshing the U.S. in a long, bloody, military sinkhole that echoes Vietnam.

Specialist (Corporal) Michael Richardson, 22, told the London Evening Standard: “At night time you think about all the people you killed. It just never gets off your head, none of this stuff does. There’s no chance to forget it, we’re still here, we’ve been here so long. Most people leave after combat but we haven’t.”

The Vietnam-era slogan “Bring the troops home!” seems timely once again.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org