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thedrifter
04-02-04, 07:12 AM
Stakes for U.S. much higher in Iraq than they were in Somalia
AP | 4/01/04 | TOM RAUM





WASHINGTON (AP) -- The murder and mutilation of four American contractors near Baghdad and the grinding death toll of American soldiers put a grisly face on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

More than a decade ago, a similar attack in Somalia prompted the United States to withdraw its troops. The White House vows there will be no retreat from Iraq.

While the horrific images were similar, the differences between U.S. involvement in the African nation and Iraq are pronounced.

The Bush administration has far more at stake in Iraq. Withdrawal would be far more complicated, perhaps leading to civil war and creating new havens for terror organizations. Wednesday's attacks, while disturbing, are the latest in a continuing series of assaults against civilians and U.S. and British occupation forces.

"The president's credibility is on the line, the strategic importance of this operation is much greater than for Somalia, and the level of investment we've made so far is much greater," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

"Granted, these attacks were especially horrid," O'Hanlon said. "But the country at this point is largely braced for this sort of thing."

Somalia militiamen attacked two U.S. helicopters in 1993, killing 18 U.S. servicemen. A mob dragged corpses of American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually leading to the U.S. withdrawal.

In Fallujah, about 35 miles west of Baghdad, frenzied crowds on Wednesday dragged the burned, mutilated bodies of four American contractors through the streets and strung two of them up from a bridge after rebels ambushed their SUVs.

The attack was captured by television cameras -- images shown widely across the Middle East.

Five American soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division were killed in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad, making March one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

U.S. officials pledged to stay the course. They still hope to be able to meet a timetable that calls for turning over sovereignty to Iraqis by June 30.

To allow these attacks to deter the coalition from its mission, "to buckle under to a bunch of insurgents" would be the ultimate disgrace to the memories of those who have given their lives, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

He said the attacks were examples of "a slight uptick in localized engagements" in Iraq, which he said have had a "negligible impact" on the coalition's progress. He said the coalition was "stepping up its offensive tempo" to kill or capture those instigating the attacks.

While Americans may be more numbed to news and images of more deaths in Iraq than they were during the Somalia conflict, there clearly is a limit to how many casualties Americans can accept before the pressure mounts on Bush to withdraw American forces.

Polls currently put the number of Americans who believe that going to war in Iraq was the right decision in the mid-50s -- down from three-quarters who felt that way last spring when the war was going on. Two-thirds said it was the right decision in mid-January.

But when people were asked in a CBS-New York Times poll last month if the results of the war with Iraq was worth the loss in American lives and other costs, 51 percent said no and 42 percent said yes.

Two-thirds answered that question yes at the end of the Iraq war, but support has dropped steadily through the last year and has been below half for several months.

The latest horrors in Iraq come as Bush is locked in a difficult re-election contest against Democratic John Kerry in which Iraq is a major issue.

Kerry voted to give Bush authority to go to war in October 2002. The Massachusetts senator now accuses the president of clinging to a failed policy that leaves Americans mired in Iraq "with the target squarely on their backs."

Bush's role as a self-defined wartime president is a central theme in his re-election campaign, and the White House was paying close attention to the continuing difficulty of the Iraqi occupation.

"The stakes are high in Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.

"We will not be intimidated," he added. "Democracy is taking root and there's no turning back."

Kerry appeared to agree, for all his differences with Bush on the subject. "These horrific attacks remind us of the viciousness of the enemies of Iraq's future," he said in a statement. "United in sadness, we are also united in our resolve that these enemies will not prevail."

In Somalia, the 18 American deaths lost in one night was as many as had been lost in the entire operation until then. At least 597 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began March 20, 2003.

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EDITOR'S NOTE -- Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.


Ellie