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Friday, October 17, 2003

'We're in the Dark'

I'm not a big Iraq commentator. I hope everyone knows what I think. I think it is easier to destabilse than it is to construct. This is my lesson from Eastern Europe, which seems to be drifting towards the edge, with no-one being especially pre-occupied. Iraq couldl be another case in point. If there were WMD's, then maybe the best stragegy would have been to destroy them and get out. Maybe it would have been easier to bring about change in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan first. Here I am with Wesley Clark. Time could prove me wrong, but the US army seems to be dug-into a pit of vipers. Just seeing how difficult it is to resolve ethnic-related conflicts in Spain, nearly thirty years after the death of Franco, makes appreciate see how difficult all this is going to be. The feelings run much deeper in Iraq, and resolution is not just round the corner. Meantime I am a Bonobo, I have never been on active service combat duty, but my feelings go out to those guys out there in Iraq. Never knowing, when you get up in the morning, whether today will be your last day on this planet has to be extremely hard. It has to be just as hard for their parents. Meantime, I think it's unrealistic to expect German and French boys to go and die in a war they didn't start. This has been set up all wrong, and unfortunately some, and only some, people are being asked to pay the price. The really difficult part is that it is hard to see how to move forward towards a better situation.

A sizeable portion of US forces serving in Iraq describe troop morale as low, and say they have no intention of re-enlisting, damaging the campaign by the US government to brighten up the image of the postwar occupation. The survey of 1,935 troops, published in a series of special reports on Iraq in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also found that a significant number of troops were confused about the purpose of their presence, and had lost faith in their mission. Coinciding with the report, the army yesterday admitted that at least 13 US troops had committed suicide in Iraq, representing more than 10% of American non-combat deaths there, and said the army had sent a suicide-prevention expert to Iraq.

Stars and Stripes, which is funded by the Pentagon, says it embarked on the project after receiving scores of letters from disenchanted servicemen. The mailbags belied claims last week by President Bush that increasingly negative public perceptions of Iraq were a product of media spin, and that those who had been there held different views. Not so those for serving up to 12 months in Iraq, according to Stars and Strips, which noted that the troops' views stood in sharp contrast to those of senior officials on brief visits to Iraq.

Yesterday the newspaper quoted an unidentified master sergeant as saying that the delegations of officers and Congressmen only met small groups of specially selected soldiers. "They stacked the deck," he says. Instead, 49% of those who answered the newspaper's questionnaire rated the morale of their unit as low or very low, 49% said it was unlikely they would re-enlist, and 31% said they thought the war had not been worthwhile.

Stars and Stripes noted that soldiers who were open about morale problems had at times faces disciplinary action. Although the malaise appears to be linked to uncertainty about the length of tours of duty in Iraq, pay scales, and conditions on the ground, another significant factor appears to be the meaning of their mission. Stars and Strips said 35% of respondents complained their mission was not clearly defined. It quotes a member of the National Guard as saying: "We're in the dark."
Source: The Guardian

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