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Locals ready for new phase in Iraq war

By Diane Wagner

While support isn't exactly waning for the war in Iraq, many local residents are eager for some kind of movement that would signal an end is in sight.

"At first I thought it was a good idea, and I still do," Al Brown said. "But it seems we didn't have a good exit strategy."

Brown, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean War, said there should be more support from other countries, including Iraq.

"I hate to see our people getting attacked every day," he said. "We can't really leave now, but it seems like there's a lot of resentment there."

DEATH TOLL RISING

The death of a soldier in a roadside bombing on Tuesday brought the toll since May 1, when President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat, to one more than the number of troops who died during heavy fighting before that date. Since the war began March 20, a total of 277 U.S. forces have died.

"It's disappointing in that I thought we were on the point of victory but it's still going on," Twanda Joseph said. "I think a lot of people are confused. There was a mixed message that, when we actually got to (Baghdad), that was what we were there to do."

Joseph runs a professional-development consulting firm in Stockbridge. She said the U.S. economy is suffering less than she had expected, but it's time to start addressing the rest of the world's responsibility in rebuilding Iraq.

"The whole (United Nations) issue is a tough call. They should have been supportive from the beginning," she said. "But we are not the only country that's going to benefit from the efforts we're putting forth and we should be getting reinforcements from those countries."

Laura Johnson, a McDonough mother of three young sons, also questioned whether a U.S. military presence should remain the primary strategy at this stage.

"I'm in huge support of President Bush, but I'm conflicted about whether we should pull out of Iraq or leave our soldiers there," she said. "There are daily reports of our people getting killed, of terrorist attacks."

Johnson said bringing the United Nations into the reconstruction efforts "is complicated," but rebuilding might run more smoothly with experts instead of soldiers at the helm.

"I can't imagine how hard it is for the top guys to make those kinds of decisions for all of us," she said. "I've always felt that this needed to be done but, if the (military) job is done, maybe we need to think about getting out of there."

U.N. HELP IFFY

The Bush administration, encountering U.N. Security Council resistance, may not seek a resolution giving the U.N.'s blessing for the deployment of additional foreign forces in Iraq.

Four days after Secretary of State Colin Powell made a pitch for council backing, U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte acknowledged on Monday, "We're nowhere near a resolution on Iraq."

Powell sought to add to the U.S.-led coalition, which now consists of about 140,000 U.S. troops and some 24,000 troops from other countries. But, on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said only that he would not exclude "a U.N.-mandated multinational force ?"

Wayne Fielder of Rex said he did not support sending troops to Iraq, and the current situation convinces him he was right all along.

"I'd like to get our people home. They're getting killed," he said. "We don't need to rebuild Iraq. Those people don't want us there."

Fielder, who registered for the draft during the Vietnam Era but received a family deferment, said he thought the action in Iraq did little to protect the United States from terrorism.

He also pointed to the ongoing battle over a Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse as proof that more than patriotic rhetoric is needed to justify continued involvement.

"We're supposed to be over there fighting for religious freedoms, and our federal government doesn't want the Ten Commandments displayed," he said. "I don't know what the right answer is, but this isn't it."

BEHIND THE SCENES

Bill Dayton of Locust Grove conceded that the situation in Iraq looks a little grim on the surface, but he noted that there is much a casual observer does not see. Dayton served in a military reconnaissance training unit in the 1950s.

"The whole secret to war is information," he said. "The most informed side usually wins."

Dayton said it's likely that special forces, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Navy SEALS, Federal Bureau of Investigation and others, have missions outside the public eye.

"I'm not discouraged. Far from it," he said. "We faced problems in the second World War that were far greater than this, and we overcame them."

Associated Press reports were used in this story.