Wednesday, June 18, 2003

While the Chimp-in-Chief is out fund raising, the question from the troops in Iraq is not WMD, rather WTF?:

HABANIYAH, Iraq - In the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle, the still air soars to 130 degrees and sweat stains the soldiers' desert camouflage uniforms as they patrol central Iraq, hunting for insurgents. When the ramp door drops, the soldiers scramble into the blinding sun and a hot wind fails to cool them through body armor and helmets. The only thing cold is the reaction of Iraqis whose cars they search. The unrelenting heat, the ambiguity of their mission, the longing for home and the indefinite duration of their deployment has crushed morale, the soldiers say.

Gone are the cool evenings of April, when U.S. soldiers played with laughing children and accepted sweet tea from elderly men. The Iraqi summer has arrived along with a growing anti-American insurgency.

With attacks against U.S. troops a daily occurrence, American soldiers are struggling to adjust as they seek to quell the insurgency with humanitarian largesse and combat power.

"We need to pull these guys out and put some other troops in here who are trained for peacekeeping, because our first impulse is to kill," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wright of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

"My guys question why we are going from warriors to peacekeepers, because the belief in what was told to us was that we would fight and win and go home and that someone else would do this (peacekeeping)," he said.

For now there are no plans to send another division to Iraq. With attacks on the rise, senior commanders refuse to say when the 3rd Infantry - which has been in the Persian Gulf region for seven months - will go home.

A sniper killed a U.S. soldier late Monday in northern Baghdad, the latest of a series of attacks and mishaps that have left about 50 American troops dead since major combat was officially declared over on May 1. Between March 20, when the war started, and May 1, 138 Americans died from accidents or hostile fire.

On Tuesday, assailants carried out drive-by shootings at a police station, a courthouse and a mayor's office in two towns west of Baghdad - attacks apparently designed to intimidate Iraqis who have cooperated with U.S. forces.

The fighting has taken on a new, more threatening tone in what some fear may be the beginning of a guerrilla war.


On their way back to the dilapidated barracks on an Iraqi air base where they live, the soldiers can see the resentment of Iraqis they thought they had liberated from Saddam Hussein. No longer greeted as heroes, they recognize the potential for trouble.

"Little kids wave at us and their parents slap them in the back of the head and make them stop," said Spc. Anthony Combs of Hyden, Ky. "It makes me feel like I wasted my time over here and they don't appreciate what we did."