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Facing a big dilemma in Baghdad - Billy Corriher

In 66 days, the Bush administration will roll the dice on what could be the biggest gamble yet in the president's war in Iraq. The administration is hoping to hand over power to an Iraqi governing coalition on June 30, even as fighting in the war-torn country shows no signs of stopping.

The Iraqis resisting America's occupation of their country have given no indication yet that they will fully relent as the deadline approaches.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. forces are trying to negotiate with insurgents in Fallujah, warning residents to turn in their guns – which few have done – and the Bush administration has decided to allow former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to get jobs with the Iraqi government and military.

The decision, though it could be seen as appeasing the terrorists, is probably a wise one. Allowing Baathists to rejoin Iraqi society may convince many of them to lay down their arms before the June 30 deadline.

It's puzzling to me that some Iraqis continue to fight even as the United States is trying to leave their country, a task that would be made much easier without terrorists' interference.

Many Iraqis fighting coalition forces are probably convinced that the Iraqi government that will succeed the Coalition Provisional Authority will be a puppet government for the United States.

If the new government, whoever it will be, wants to keep Iraq secure so the country can hold elections, it has to convince Iraqis that the Bush administration is not going to control the country after the June 30 transition.

I think almost all the country's citizens, except those who benefited from Hussein's reign, will eventually welcome a democratic Iraq. That was the line we heard from the Bush administration leading up to the war, and that was one of the main justifications for invading Iraq.

But despite what administration supporters are claiming, coalition forces are having a tough time convincing Iraqis that they came to their country as liberators.

It could be true that the majority of Iraqis are glad America toppled Hussein, but it's also true that a substantial portion of the population is resisting our presence or at least tolerating other citizens' resistance. It seems that the fighting has grown fiercer the longer our troops have been there.

President Bush is hoping the June 30 transfer of power will do something to quell the idea that America intends to keep its hand in Iraq's future affairs.

With the American public growing increasingly skeptical of his handling of Iraq, Bush needs to convince his constituents that something good can come of the invasion before the November election.

Many of the military's top brass have conceded that we will have to keep forces in Iraq after the political transition. We can only hope and pray that the transition will convince Iraqis to stop trying to kill our soldiers.

Billy Corriher covers politics and government for the News Daily. He can be reached at bcorriher@news-daily.com or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 281.