Monday, August 25, 2003

Iraq is becoming the new lead battleground in the war against terrorism as Islamic militants are being drawn there — a situation more favorable to the United States than having to battle terror at home.

“From the point of view of the al Qaeda types, this is a pretty important battlefield for them,” said L. Paul Bremer, U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq.

Mr. Bremer made his comments on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” and appeared on the other Sunday political talk shows, where he outlined the new front line against terrorism.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether a significant influx of foreign fighters is gathering in Iraq, Mr. Bremer said, “I’m afraid they are.”

Mr. Bremer also said Iraq would be the logical arena for international terrorists to gather and make a stand.

“It’s a plausible argument, because the terrorists hate everything that we stand for, the United States, and they hate the vision we have for Iraq, because the vision we have for Iraq is fundamentally threatening to the terrorists’ vision,” Mr. Bremer said.

“I suppose they could calculate that if we can succeed in Iraq, it will change the entire structure of this area of the world. And so it certainly is attracting a lot of them here, and it shows what the stakes are for all Americans. We’ve got to win this fight here,” Mr. Bremer said.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Bremer said the line in the war against terrorism appears to have been drawn in Iraq.

“We can’t duck this fight; it’s a fight against us. … We’ve got to deal with what we’ve got, which is a significant terrorist threat, and we’ve got to defeat it here,” Mr. Bremer said.

“It started for us in a big way in New York, but you could say it’s in Nairobi and Dar es Salam. We’ve seen it in Somalia. We’ve seen it in Saudi Arabia. And we are now seeing a large number of international terrorists coming into Iraq.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the American people would support the war on terrorism, no matter where the battle lines are drawn.

“The American people fully would understand that we cannot protect our own borders, we have to go where the terrorists are,” Mr. McCain said, appearing via satellite from Iraq.

“If they win here, then obviously we cannot win the war on terrorism — and the dictators in this part of the world are paying attention as well as the terrorist organizations,” Mr. McCain said.

The foreign fighters are reportedly coming into Iraq from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. “They are coming in because they know what’s at stake, and we cannot afford to lose this,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Bremer avoided answering whether the Bush administration set Iraq as a deliberate trap to capture terrorists, although he previously has stated that it is “better to fight it here than to fight it somewhere else, like the United States.”

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez told reporters last month that Iraq would become a “terrorist magnet.”

“But this is exactly where we want to fight them; we want to fight them here, we prepared for them,” Lt. Gen. Sanchez said. “And this will prevent the American people from having to go through other attacks back in the United States.”

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied that a mecca has been created for terrorists to congregate and strike the base of 150,000 American troops stationed in Iraq.

“It’s more of a question of wills right now,” he said on NBC.

The drumbeat to send more troops to Iraq continued in light of last week’s attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, where top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed.

However, the Bush administration reiterated that U.S. forces instead need information and more cooperation from Iraqi civilians.

“There, what we need is better intelligence against them, and we’re going to try to do that,” Mr. Bremer said on Fox.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said as many as 60,000 additional troops will be needed and argued on NBC for a “true” multinational force on the ground in Iraq that includes French and German forces.

“I’m like a broken record on this. … we are woefully underprepared,” Mr. Biden said.

The “American flag,” he said, is viewed as an “occupying force.”

“This administration is treating Iraq like it’s some prize we won that we don’t want to share,” Mr. Biden said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said troop numbers and experience is lacking, and suggested President Bush make a formal presentation to the American people on what actions should be taken next.

“We are not configured as a nation in our armed forces or the State Department to deal with nation-building,” Mr. Lugar said.

Gen. Myers said sending additional troops to Iraq, if needed, will never be a problem. If Gen. John Abizaid of U.S. Central Command “wants more troops, he can have more troops. This is never an issue.”

However, Gen. Myers said the administration would welcome a larger international presence.

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