Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Yesterday’s suicide bombing in Baghdad left some Democrats calling for re-evaluating the U.S. role in Iraq and blaming the Bush administration for lacking foresight and losing control of the situation in Iraq.

“It is becoming increasingly clear each day that the administration misread the situation on the ground in Iraq and lacks an adequate plan to win the peace and protect our troops,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate, calling on President Bush to invite more troops from other nations to help out.

The bomber killed the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 19 other persons at the United Nations’ Iraq headquarters.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and another presidential candidate, said Mr. Bush bears some blame for the bombing, by mistakenly pursuing the war in Iraq.

“Had the president pursued the war on terrorism prior to initiating military action against Saddam Hussein — as I advocated last year — it is likely that al Qaeda and other terrorist networks would not have been able to take advantage of the chaos that now exists in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq,” Mr. Graham said.

He also called on Mr. Bush to admit “he misled Americans” by declaring three months ago that major combat operations had ended in Iraq.

Hours before the bombing, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said stabilizing postwar Iraq is proving a more difficult task than anybody thought, and said more American troops are probably needed.

“I don’t think any of us — including [the troops] — anticipated the amount and sophistication of these attacks,” Mr. McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think they may need more people, both in the military overall and perhaps here on the ground.

“I also think we need to tell the American people that we cannot afford to fail, and that’s why we’ll have to do what is necessary in a significant expenditure of American blood and treasure,” he said.

American involvement in Iraq is costing $4 billion a month, and since May 1 — when Mr. Bush declared major combat over — almost 60 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq in enemy attacks.

But Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and House Armed Services Committee chairman, said while he agrees with renewing the U.S. effort, he doesn’t think there is necessarily a correlation between more troops and preventing attacks like yesterday’s bombing.

“It’s difficult to translate another division of soldiers into a scenario where that truck bomb would have been deterred,” he said. “I think that we have to rely on the judgment of the field commanders in Iraq with respect to force structure.”

Mr. Hunter said the renewed effort and resources should first be put toward building intelligence capabilities in order to try to know about and prevent terrorist attacks. He said yesterday’s suicide attack must be a wake-up call for Americans not to lose faith in what U.S. forces are trying to accomplish.

“Standing firm is critical for the United States. The worst possible aftermath of the bombings is for the terrorists to perceive that the bombings are weakening U.S. resolve,” Mr. Hunter said.

A handful of members of Congress were visiting Baghdad at the time of the attack. None of them was injured, but they said in a conference call with reporters that the attack underscored the importance of the U.S. mission.

“They’re measuring us. They’re watching us,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “Do we have the resolve to take casualties and spend money? The answer is yes.”

Still, Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, who was also in Baghdad, said the attack was “a terrible blow to our efforts to put an international face on our efforts to bring reconstruction to Iraq.”

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