- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

BAGHDAD — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, whose shifting positions on the Iraq war may have cost him the presidency, arrived in Baghdad yesterday searching for clues about the ongoing conflict.

Mr. Kerry visited U.S. soldiers from his home state, American intelligence officials and Iraqi officials on a pair of quick trips to the Iraqi capital and other cities of the country as part of a fact-finding mission in the Middle East.

Mr. Kerry, who waged an unsuccessful presidential bid based in part on the premise that President Bush had botched the war effort in Iraq, said he came to Iraq to see for himself whether the country was moving toward stability or deeper into chaos.

“I’ve been visiting a lot places like Des Moines [Iowa] and Green Bay [Wisconsin] and it has been great,” Mr. Kerry said during an informal lunch meeting with a small group of reporters and officials of nongovernmental organizations. “But we are at war, and I think you can’t really make all the judgments that you need to make without digging in.”

He declined to compare the insurgency in Iraq with the one he faced in South Vietnam as a Navy gunship lieutenant three decades ago. But he insisted that superior firepower by itself won’t quell the uprising in Iraq.

“No insurgency is defeated by conventional military power alone,” he said.

“Look at the IRA,” the Irish Republican Army, which fought a decades-long guerrilla war against the British in Northern Ireland. “It was defeated by a combination of time and political negotiation,” he said.

The senator also was scheduled to meet with officials of the U.S. Embassy, as well as members of the interim Iraqi government.

Soldiers approached Mr. Kerry inside the restaurant of the Rashid Hotel, where he met with the journalists, asking him to pose for photographs and sign T-shirts.

Yesterday evening, Mr. Kerry met with about 20 soldiers based in his home state, including troops from the Army Reserve’s 356th Engineer Detachment, and the 126th Aviation Regiment of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

Mr. Kerry said he was more interested in asking questions of soldiers, American officials, Iraqis and even journalists rather than rehashing the political battles of the past campaign season.

But in several instances, he attacked what he called the “horrendous judgments” and “unbelievable blunders” of the Bush administration.

The mistakes, he said, included former U.S. Proconsul L. Paul Bremer’s decisions to disband the Iraqi army and go along with a plan to purge the government of former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party. Both moves are widely thought to have fueled the insurgency.

“What is sad about what’s happening here now is that so much of it is a process of catching up from the enormous miscalculations and wrong judgments made in the beginning,” he said. “And the job has been made enormously harder.”

But he added that it was time to move forward.

“Mistakes have been made,” he said. “Now it’s a different time and different set of judgments that have to be made. I’m here to make judgments about what moves are available to us.”

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