Renewed violence brings Iraq back into Washington mindset

    Just when it seemed like things might be taking a turn for the
    better in Iraq, insurgents have issued a bloody reminder that the war
    is not over by launching some of the deadliest attacks since the U.S.
    invasion almost three years ago.

    Suicide bombings and a roadside
    explosion killed at least 130 people Thursday, including five U.S.
    soldiers, a day after 32 Shiite Muslim mourners were slain at a funeral.

    After a period of relative calm in Iraq since Dec. 15 elections, the
    renewed violence reverberated in Washington, where President Bush on
    Wednesday had described a small drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and
    looked ahead to additional cuts later this year.

    Gen. Peter
    Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the
    fresh bloodshed in Iraq was a sign of desperation by insurgents who he
    said have failed to halt the movement toward democracy and self-rule.

    “I see the terrorist attack as acknowledgement on the terrorists’ part
    that this is a center of gravity and that they’re losing,” Pace told
    reporters at the Pentagon.

    Expanding his recent initiative to
    seek broader support for the U.S. military effort in Iraq, Bush met
    with a bipartisan group of 13 former secretaries of state and defense
    from presidential administrations stretching back more than four

    “Not everybody around this table agrees with my
    decision to go into Iraq, I fully understand that,” Bush said at the
    White House. “But these are good, solid Americans who understand that
    we’ve got to succeed now that we’re there. And I’m most grateful for
    the suggestions that have been given. We take to heart the advice.”

    Several of the former Cabinet members urged Bush to talk to Americans more often about Iraq, according to participants.

    Melvin Laird, who served as defense secretary under President Nixon,
    described the meeting as “a free exchange.” Lawrence Eagleburger,
    secretary of state under Bush’s father, said the president heard some
    “mild” criticism.

    “Some of the things he heard, he probably didn’t like too well,” Eagleburger told reporters after the meeting.

    Frank Carlucci, defense secretary under President Reagan, said the most
    outspoken participants were Laird, George Shultz (secretary of state
    under Reagan) and Madeleine Albright (secretary of state under
    President Clinton).

    “A lot of people urged the president to
    continue with the kind of speeches that he’s been giving lately,
    explaining our policies, acknowledging that mistakes are and will be
    made, and that the course ahead is a tough course, but that we intend
    to succeed,” Carlucci told MSNBC.

    Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S.
    ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. troops in
    Iraq, briefed the group via videoconference from Baghdad, while Pace
    joined the talks at the White House.

    In a speech Wednesday, Bush
    pointed to the elections three weeks ago as a watershed, noting
    increased voting by Sunnis and a larger security role for Iraqi forces.
    While he warned of continuing violence, Bush said Iraqis are seizing
    the opportunity to form a democratic government.

    results of the election are still being finalized, and the winning
    candidate slates will require weeks or even months of negotiations to
    form a governing coalition of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, Iraq’s three
    main sects.

    Sunnis, a minority sect that held power under
    deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, have fueled the insurgency. The new
    outbreak of violence this week jolted Bush administration hopes that
    the Sunnis’ increased participation in the election would sap the
    insurgents’ strength.

    Lt. Col. Ray Millen, a strategic studies
    analyst at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said the attacks
    were likely carried out by Sunni Muslims seeking to claim a prominent
    role in the Iraqi governing coalition now being formed in the wake of
    last month’s elections.

    “The attacks are just being used to
    remind the officials in Iraq that they must include the Sunnis in the
    political process,” Millen said. “The message is: Don’t try to
    marginalize us, or this will continue.”

    David Albright, a former
    U.N. nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq who is now head of the Center
    for Science and International Security in Washington, said some of the
    same people who voted might also be supporting the insurgency.

    “The problem is you can vote in the morning and bomb at night,” he
    said. “The voting might help serve their needs and the bombing might
    help serve their needs at the same time. It’s such an unstable
    situation, it’s just very hard to predict the outcome.” Jon Alterman,
    who served in the State Department during Bush’s first term and is now
    an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
    Washington, said the security situation in Iraq is very uneven, with
    some of the most dangerous areas located in and around Baghdad.

    “I was just talking with a Western ambassador in Baghdad,” Alterman
    said. “He hasn’t been out to a meal since March. It’s hard to argue
    that the country’s working when the capital’s not safe.”

    The real outcome of the elections, Alterman said, won’t be known for some time.

    “We don’t know who’s going to be left out of the coalition and what the
    consequences are going to be,” he said. “Until we get a much better
    sense of those things, we’re going to have absolutely no clue of where
    Iraq is going as a country.”

    Pace said he believes that violence
    will subside over the course of this year, but he acknowledged that the
    ultimate success or failure of the insurgents would depend on the Iraqi

    “It depends on how comfortable these terrorists feel
    moving about the towns and cities in Iraq,” Pace said. “I think if the
    Iraqi people demonstrate to the terrorists that they’re not welcome in
    their cities, that they’re not welcome in their towns, that murderers .
    . . of fellow Muslims . . . are not welcome, that will reduce the
    number of people. But clearly there is enough munitions scattered
    around that country still that the capacity to attack will be there.”