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Published: Monday, 6/4/2007

Iraq is no Korea

Modeling his policy in Iraq after the United States experience in South Korea is wrong on so many levels

DESPITE overwhelming public opposition to a prolonged U.S. military presence in Iraq and Congress repeated attempts to set timelines for troop withdrawals, President Bush sees a long-term role for the military in Iraq using South Korea as a model. It s as if he is blissfully going in the opposite direction of the rest of the country and the world.

Modeling his Iraq policy after South Korea, where thousands of American troops have been based for more than half a century, is wrong on so many levels it s hard to know where to start. Just the notion of stationing troops in Iraq for maybe 50 years or so is a blow to a country already in shock and awe over an invasion that turned into an open-ended war.

After more than 3,470 U.S. casualties, 25,500-plus wounded ,and tens of thousand of Iraqis killed, Americans want out of Iraq yesterday not an indefinite military stay in a country that also wants its foreign occupiers out.

Can the administration be that out of touch with the public it leads? Perhaps even more alarming than the lengthy U.S. troop presence Mr. Bush now envisions for Iraq is the fact that he could apply South Korea to Iraq when the military circumstances could not be more different.

In the three-year Korean War, American soldiers fought an enemy in uniform that eventually agreed to a truce. The cease-fire with South Korea has held since 1953 with the help of some 30,000 American troops on duty in the demilitarized zone.

Not only does the enemy in Iraq not wear a uniform, U.S. forces often don t know whom they re fighting. They could be stuck in the middle of warring Shiites or Sunnis or war lords or imported al Qaeda terrorists or criminal thugs or an innocent-looking bystander in a market.

And there are as many agendas tearing Iraq apart as there are hostile factions. Frankly, the only shared sentiment among those waging fierce battles for strong-man control in Iraq appears to be hating Americans. U.S. troops doing multiple tours of duty in Baghdad have become increasing enemy targets in a free-for-all war zone.

No, the suicide bombers, sectarian splits, and escalating violence roiling Iraq have nothing even remotely in common with the Korean experience. But having said that, if Mr. Bush is genuinely studying the Korean model for applicability in Iraq he should waste no time in drawing some DMZ border positions for U.S. troops mired in the deadly civil war.

In fact, do it today before another roadside bomb claims another U.S. soldier. Otherwise, stop sending conflicting signals about possible troop reductions and a permanent presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.

After more than four years, half a trillion dollars, and plenty of grief, it s time to declare the mission to topple Saddam Hussein and nudge Iraqis to self-determination finally accomplished and bring the troops home.

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