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Iraq Journals

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Friday, April 30

April violence exposes problems in U.S. Iraq plan

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Securing Iraq and returning sovereignty to the Iraqis are the twin pillars of the U.S. mission in the volatile nation.

But can they be done simultaneously as the Bush administration is determined to do?

The recent fighting in the cities of Fallujah and Najaf, which has made April the deadliest month of the war for American forces, has raised troubling questions about that strategy.

The administration plan is to transfer limited sovereignty to an Iraqi government June 30, but retain full control over the still chaotic security situation with the 135,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Iraq.

But this fledgling government, regardless of how powerful, could cause real problems if conflicts like those in Fallujah and Najaf persist.

``What happens when somebody, anybody, in authority in this new government says `you ought not to do what you're doing in Fallujah or Najaf,''' asked Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ``What do we do then?''

Ignore the request and the insurgents have succeeded in undermining, if not destroying, the new government.

Honor it and give the insurgents cover.

This particular problem has emerged as one of the most worrisome scenarios facing the Bush plan in Iraq. And it's hardly hypothetical.

As fighting flared recently in Fallujah, some of the leading members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Iraq's lead civil authority, strongly objected to what they claimed were heavy-handed tactics by U.S. Marines.

``This is genocide,'' Adnan Pachachi, considered among the most pro-American members of the council, told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV. "We consider the action carried out by U.S. forces as illegal and totally unacceptable. It is collective punishment on the residents of Fallujah.''

Not much came of the complaints on the Iraqi streets because the governing council has little credibility with Iraqis.

But what happens after June 30, when an Iraqi government U.S. authorities are trying to strengthen with legitimacy is faced with another Fallujah, or perhaps a continuation of what's still going on in the embattled city?

It can hardly remain silent as Iraqi bodies are pulled from rubble on Arab television.

Indeed, it will probably react much like the governing council.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq who is assembling the new government, has said he opposes the siege of Fallujah, leading some lawmakers to believe that he will select like-minded candidates for leadership.

Iraq's new security forces, which are essential in helping take the American face off the occupation, also raise troubling questions in the sovereignty versus security equation.

After June 30, they will answer to a U.S. military commander, as they do now.

Will they obey orders to shoot fellow Iraqis if the new government opposes their mission?

During the recent Shiite rebellion south of Baghdad, many of the Iraqi security forces either abandoned their posts or joined the insurgents.

John Negroponte, now the ambassador to the United Nations and the administration's nominee for the newly created ambassadorship to Iraq, was asked what would happen if the new Iraqi authorities and the U.S. military commanders disagreed over a situation like Fallujah.

It would require ``real dialogue'' between military and Iraqi leaders, he said.

These scenarios and actual events are why some lawmakers, including Lugar, believe that Bush should consider delaying the sovereignty handoff until Iraq is more stable.

Bush has made it clear that's not an option, and that he's confident Iraq will be ready for the transfer June 30.

``There are pockets of resistance and our military along with Iraqis will make sure it's secure,'' Bush told reporters at the White House.

Iraqi casualties

It's difficult to determine how many Iraqis have died in the war. The Pentagon stopped tracking enemy body counts after Vietnam.

Some estimates by aid and other organizations that have tried to calculate Iraqi losses by cobbling together media accounts run as high as 10,000. For one estimate, click on http://www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm.