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08-22-03, 07:15 AM
Bloodshed taxing U.S. patience

Demos and GOP firing away at war on terrorism
By Terence Hunt
Associated Press

WASHINGTON Two years into President Bush's war against terrorism, America's resolve and patience are being tested by bloodshed and violence.
From Baghdad to Jerusalem and across Afghanistan, attacks are growing and so are the casualties, bringing fresh criticism and questions about the administration's policy.
Democrats and Republicans alike complain that the administration failed to anticipate the amount and sophistication of attacks in Iraq that have killed 131 U.S. soldiers since Bush, on May 1, declared an end to major combat there.
"I think we may have misled the American people by telling them basically that it was over," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on a fact-finding mission in Iraq. He said the hardest part is still ahead: trying to instill peace and democracy.
While Bush boasts that the United States is winning the war, the terrorists are striking back with a vengeance. The latest examples are a deadly truck bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a bus attack in Jerusalem in which five Americans were among the 20 killed. In addition, there is an increase in guerrilla battles in Afghanistan, raising fears of a Taliban comeback.
An FBI investigator said Wednesday in Baghdad that the truck bomb that devastated the U.N. headquarters was a crude combination of explosives from Saddam Hussein's old military arsenal, including a giant 500-pound bomb. But U.S. and Iraqi officials said it was too early to say who was behind the attack Saddam loyalists or foreign terrorists.
The FBI agents searching for clues in the rubble at the U.N. headquarters determined that the bomb was made up of about 1,000 pounds of old ordnance, including mortar rounds, artillery shells, hand grenades and a 500-pound bomb, Special Agent Thomas Fuentes said.
The explosives were piled without "any great degree of sophistication or expertise" onto the back of a Soviet-made military flatbed truck known as a KAMAZ, not a cement truck as earlier thought, Fuentes said. The vehicle was driven to just outside the concrete wall recently built around the hotel and detonated.
With the death tolls climbing, experts wonder whether U.S. resolve will hold.
"These attacks on a daily basis being reported in the America media will tend to have the effect of dampening the American enthusiasm for the war against terrorism," said University of Houston professor Clifford Egan, a specialist in diplomacy and military history.
"Polls indicate there still is support for this," Egan said. "But there is a side of our national character impatience that's going to appear sooner or later."
A Washington Post poll this week, before Tuesday's attacks in Baghdad and Jerusalem, found a solid majority 56 percent approve of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq.
It was just last month that Bush seemed to dare U.S. foes in Iraq to take on American forces. "Bring them on," he taunted a challenge answered by attacks that have killed Americans on an average of about one a day.
"Wherever we are, by definition, there's going to be terrorist attacks," said Ruth Wedgwood, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The magnet is not Iraq. The magnet is us. Unless you plan on going home and stopping immigration and leaving international affairs to the Japanese and the Germans, you've got no choice but to be somewhat forward deployed."
Many experts think the United States and its allies need to put more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan to stem the violence and stabilize conditions. U.S. forces have failed to find Osama bin Laden despite a nearly two-year search and have failed to turn up Saddam Hussein.
"In both places we have not yet been able to establish a secure and stable environment that we need as a foundation for real reconstruction," said Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But American forces already are stretched thin by commitments around the world. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday there are no immediate plans to bolster troops levels in Iraq. Similarly, no increase is in the works for Afghanistan.
The increase in bloodshed has brought more criticism from Democrats, particularly those in the race for the White House. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman said the Baghdad bombing "should explode the illusions of postwar progress and stability the Bush administration continues to cling to."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said the attack shows the administration "lacks an adequate plan to win the peace and protect our troops." Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said Bush is missing an opportunity to seek a U.N. mandate for reconstruction of Iraq.
Despite the setbacks, Bush pledges that the United States is prepared to endure the losses and "persevere through every hardship."
The administration points to the capture of dozens of most-wanted Iraqis and the deaths of Saddam's two sons, Odai and Qusai. Despite shortages of electricity and water, the administration says Iraq's security and infrastructure are improving.
"If we're willing to spend the time, we can probably dampen the threat to both the United States and other Western groups (in Iraq)," said Rice University political scientist Richard Stoll. "But it's going to take a while. If the president of the United States is determined we will need to do that, it will happen."


Terence Hunt has covered Washington since 1974, including five presidents