Keeping June deadline for Iraq is not feasible

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

As bloodshed has picked up in Iraq in recent weeks, the impending deadline to turn over control of the country to the Iraqi people seems more and more impossible.

President Bush insisted Monday that June 30 remains a firm deadline for U.S. occupation forces to transfer authority to a provisional government. It is understood the president would like to honor his word.

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However, the Iraqi people need to accept the fact that U.S. forces are needed in the country until the assaults on U.S. forces and their countrymen end. The Iraqis and U.S. forces need security more than the symbolic passing of the torch.

The killing of four U.S. security contract employees in Fallujah last Thursday is a prime example of the instability of Iraq. The charred bodies of the victims were dragged through the streets and two were hung from a bridge. It is highly likely

things would have been worse if American troops were not readily available.

The fact is, unless things change drastically in a few short months, the United States cannot just pull out of Iraq. That would all but guarantee the resurgence of Saddam Hussein's Baathists and strengthen radical Iraqi Islamists.

After all, of the more than 600 members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed in Iraq, more than 460 of them died in the last year, even though

on April 14, 2003, President Bush said major fighting was over.

Even after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, the violence has not subsided. Today, it is worse than ever.

While packing up camp and leaving Iraq is not an option, passing on more security responsibilities to the Iraqis - and consequently scaling back U.S. troops - is certainly conceivable.

This is a fight that we started and will have to finish, as unpleasant as it may be. We owe it to the 600 people who have given their lives for the cause. Leaving permanently would literally be saying they died in vain.