Thursday, December 23, 2004

Know thine enemy -- but how?

During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong played all kinds of dirty tricks on American soldiers. They rigged bamboo maces and crossbows to concealed tripwires. They placed "punji sticks," sharpened bamboo spikes dipped in feces, in hidden pits to pierce troops' feet and cause dangerous infections. And perhaps most notoriously, they often dressed like innocent Vietnamese civilians and ambushed unsuspecting American soldiers.

Sadly, it seems the Iraqi insurgents are quickly picking up on the VC's kind of thinking.

U.S. military investigators now believe the explosion that killed 22 people at a mess tent in Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday is attributable to a suicide bomber dressed in an Iraqi army uniform. Authorities think the bomber was an insurgent who infiltrated the Iraqi army and somehow slipped through the background checks performed on Iraqis before they receive access to U.S. military installations. Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, blamed himself for the security holes that led to the bombing. I commend him for admitting he made a mistake, and I hope some senior Bush administration officials were paying attention to how this "accepting responsibility" thing works.

President Bush is clinging tenaciously to his self-imposed Jan. 30 deadline for holding an Iraqi election. I have to wonder, though, how Bush can expect Iraqis to vote in peace across the country next month when insurgents won't even let American troops have lunch in peace on their own base right now. In fact, it's getting ever tougher for our forces on the ground to tell the difference between civilians and insurgents, between allies and enemies, between uniformed Iraqi soldiers and terrorists in disguise.

The Jan. 30 deadline falls squarely between Bush's second inauguration and the first State of the Union address of his second term. Make of that what you will.

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