The troops, and Bush, looking vulnerable in Iraq

Published December 22, 2004 8:40PM (EST)

The New York Times has now joined ABC in reporting that the attack in Mosul was the work of a suicide bomber. That an attacker could infiltrate a U.S. military base and cause such carnage is a disturbing measure of the general state of affairs in Iraq, and not just in terms of the safety of American soldiers -- how will Iraqis feel about going to vote on Jan. 30 if not even U.S. bases can be protected from suicide attackers?

Meanwhile, as concern about the war grows at home, President Bush may find it increasingly difficult to pursue the sweeping domestic policy changes he's heralded for his second term. "As he prepares to take the oath of office a second time and to focus more of his energy on a far-reaching domestic agenda," writes Richard Stevenson in today's Times, "he is at risk of finding his presidency so consumed by Iraq for at least the next year that he could have trouble pressing ahead with big initiatives like the overhauling of Social Security."

With Donald Rumsfeld already under heavy fire after wide coverage of the lack of armor for U.S. troops, the devastating attack in Mosul -- accompanied by reports that military leaders were aware of the base's vulnerability -- can't be doing much to boost confidence in the Pentagon leadership. Currently, there appears to be a broader vulnerability to insurgent forces: Reporting from Samarra, the Washington Post's Josh White notes that U.S. troops have been coming under attack at bases around the country in recent days.

"Most U.S. bases in Iraq are regular targets of enemy fire, magnets for insurgents trying to hamper reconstruction efforts. Most of the fire misses because the insurgents are not a highly trained military force. But sometimes the attacks hit hard.

"In the past few days attacks in Samarra have become more frequent, with most focused on U.S. forces in and around their base. Explosions occur several times of day and mortar rounds fall within a few hundred yards of the installation. Insurgents have targeted American soldiers repairing schools and Army snipers hunkered atop a historic minaret, which now bears the circular scars of an RPG blast.

"Senior officials here said that the insurgents could be building up to a series of spectacular attacks with the approach of national elections at the end of January, and said they were particularly concerned about a large attack on a patrol base such as Uvanni, where soldiers sleep and eat in large groups."

The danger to U.S. forces is not likely to wane anytime soon. As Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters Tuesday, "There should be no illusion that suddenly right after the election the Iraqis are going to be able to take over their own security. Certainly, we're going to be there through '05 in significant numbers."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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