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July 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Quo Vadis, Iraq?

Three months after President Bush announced that the “fighting is over” in Iraq, American and British soldiers are being killed and wounded in that troubled country every day. U.S. Army Specialist Ramon Reyes Torres was the most recent of six Puerto Ricans to be killed in the Iraqi operations and his recent funeral in Caguas became a venue for opposition to the U.S. Iraq policy. There were even calls for the withdrawal of the roughly 1,500 Puerto Rican military personnel now serving in the Middle Eastern country.

Once again, the question is asked if the reconstruction of Iraq ought not be placed with an international authority such as the United Nations or NATO, thereby substituting a multinational force for American GI’s. Although there is no public rejection of the idea of internationalizing the occupation force by the Bush administration, there is little movement by the Departments of Defense and State to bring it about. In this week’s Hot Button Issue poll, Herald readers may again express their opinions on U.S. policies in Iraq. Since October of last year, this subject has been raised in the Herald poll on four occasions.

U.S. military leaders attribute the "post-war" sniper deaths to "guerrilla warfare," organized by die-hard Saddam sympathizers acting on a pre-war plan to harass occupying forces, thereby creating political dissention at home in response to mounting casualties. Street demonstrations — sometimes with as many as ten thousand protestors — rant against Western presence in Iraq, calling for the establishment of an Islamic State. Equally reviled by the demonstrators are members of a national council of Iraqis, formed by occupation authorities to re-establish a working government and restore order to the chaotic state of affairs.

The Bush administration, worried by the situation in Iraq and stung by accusations that the President misled the American people in his pre-invasion characterization of Saddam’s threat to the security of the United States, asserts that the disorder in Iraq is a predictable consequence of fear that Saddam Hussein might return to power. He is still at large, even broadcasting messages to Iraqis through Arab networks beamed to Iraq. It dismisses the barbs of critics who remind that none of the promised weapons of mass destruction have been unearthed. The Bush mantra is still maintained: "They are there, and eventually we will find them."

Most within the growing throng vying for nomination to be the Democratic Party candidate for President in 2004 are using public concern about the situation in Iraq to snipe at the still-popular President Bush. They accuse the administration of "cooking " the evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear capability. One such Democratic hopeful, expected soon to announce his candidacy, is former four-star General and former NATO commander Wesley Clark. In media interviews he has denigrated the Administration’s handling of Iraq, saying that not including the United Nations in the process from the very beginning was a "strategic blunder." He predicts that, if the present policy continues in Iraq, "it will be necessary to maintain troops there for five to ten more years."

U.S. officials were buoyed earlier in the week when Hussein’s two sons and top advisors, Qusay and Uday, were killed in a firefight in a northern city of Iraq. There was celebration in Baghdad immediately after the deaths were announced. U.S. officials predicted that the death of these much-feared henchmen of their father would signal the ultimate demise of the Baath Party in Iraq and would be a settling factor on the ground. On a daily basis, the Bush spokespeople reiterate the administration’s objective to not leave Iraq until a democratically elected government is in place, overseeing a multi-ethnic and peaceful society.

The first time Herald readers were queried on the issue of U.S. involvement in Iraq was in October, 2002, just after the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution giving President Bush the authority to use the nation’s Armed Forces in any way that he determined "necessary and appropriate to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." In that poll, only 35% of respondents thought that the US should go it alone in Iraq while the remaining preferred that it do so either with United Nations participation or not at all.

The next Hot Button Issue Poll on the subject was in January, 2003, just after President George W. Bush’s second State of the Union address to Congress. It was in this speech that he uttered his now discredited accusation that British intelligence had discovered evidence that the Iraqis were attempting to buy uranium in the tiny African country of Niger. In spite of the President’s strident message, 53% of Herald readers still preferred United Nation’s involvement in any military action in Iraq, a statistical result reflecting the mood of the nation generally.

Several weeks later, Herald readers were again asked if it should be "war or wait," and opinion was evenly divided. This poll was after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation of evidence to the United Nations Security Council, purporting to tie Saddam Hussein’s regime to the production of biological and chemical weapons and of evading the efforts of U.N. inspectors to locate weapons of mass destruction. At the time of the poll, over 1,000 Puerto Rican reservists had been called to active duty and 4,700 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard mobilized. Thousands more Puerto Ricans were already members of the U.S. volunteer military forces.

The last sampling of Herald reader opinion on the subject was in April 2003, asking, "Who should lead the post-war reconstruction of Iraq?" The poll was taken just after invading forces had wrested control of Iraq from the government of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party. There was jubilation in the streets of Iraq, but a "dark side" was also emerging, as widespread looting began, with gangs carrying off everything they could lay hands on. World opinion was shocked by images of Iraqis stripping banks, schools, hospitals and museums of money, equipment and antiquities, with the "liberating" troops standing by offering no resistance. Some 80% of Herald respondents wished to see the UN in either a leading or secondary role in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction, but it was not to be.

Today the looting has given way to hit-and-run assaults on our soldiers and marines and it is time to provide Herald readers an opportunity to once again sound off on U.S. policy in Iraq. What do you think the U.S. should do next in Iraq? Please vote above.

This Week's Question:
What should the U.S. do next in Iraq?

US . Residents
. PR
The U.S. should internationalize the effort 36%
29% The U.S. should maintain the present policy 31%
22% The U.S. should leave as soon as possible 33%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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