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A new course needed in Iraq

MY 34 YEARS in the Army taught me to steel my spine, but not my heart, whenever I hear news of American casualties. On Tuesday I read about Sergeant Ernest Bucklew, who was headed home to attend his mother's funeral when his Chinook helicopter was shot out of the sky en route to Baghdad. Fifteen American soldiers died alongside him.

For the sake of every member of our armed forces, we need a plan to end the conflict in Iraq. Retreat is not an option. Withdrawal would be a disaster for America, a tragedy for Iraq, and a crisis for the world. It would destroy our credibility, give terrorists a new haven, and throw the Middle East into greater turmoil. No matter how difficult it will be, we need a "success strategy."

Success won't be easy, but only success can honor the sacrifice of our soldiers and allow the troops to come home. Success means that Iraq is strong enough to sustain itself without outside forces. Success means that representative government has taken root. Success means that Iraq's economy and civil society are healthy again.

Congress just gave the administration an $87 billion check to continue down the path that we're on. But President Bush still has no strategy to succeed. I do. Here's my "success strategy":

* End the American monopoly.

We must call a summit of the leaders we've alienated, the people whose advice we've scorned, the organizations whose assistance we've turned down. Out of this gathering, we can build a new organization to replace the Coalition Provisional Authority and internationalize the face of the occupation.

To guide the reconstruction of Iraq, we need a civilian from an allied country. That civilian official would report to an international council, composed of representatives from nations that support our efforts to build a democratic Iraq.

As we saw in the Balkans, when we share power, other countries share our burden. I would transform the military occupation into a NATO operation with US forces in charge. With US command, NATO authority, and UN endorsement, other NATO countries would send troops, and Arab countries would also step in.

* Find the right force mix.

The more conventional forces we have, the more logistics we need. The more unarmored Humvees on patrol, the more unnecessary American deaths from roadside bombs.

* Better border protection.

To stanch the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq, we must seal the borders. That requires assistance from Iraq's neighbors. Using carrots and sticks, we can persuade these countries to cooperate.

* Secure ammunition.

Weapons dumps throughout Iraq are unguarded. It is estimated that 500,000 tons of ammunition is still not secure. We must patrol these sites and destroy these weapons.

* More intelligence resources.

Success in Iraq depends on developing good information and a good rapport with civilians. Right now too many of our linguists and intelligence experts are working on the search for weapons of mass destruction. International inspectors should take over that search, which would free up enough experts to help us track down those who are killing our soldiers and creating chaos.

* Formidable Iraqi security forces.

We should recall the Iraqi Army to duty right now. If given good pay, good training, and solid background checks, Iraqi civilians can also help fill the intelligence and security gap.

* Give the Iraqis a rising stake in our success.

It would be wrong to transfer authority to the Iraqis before they are ready to succeed, but we can give Iraqis more control over their destiny. The administration says the Iraqis can't have a sovereign government without a constitution. This is backwards. Iraqis, appointed by representatives from Iraq's 50 elected regional councils, should name an interim government even while a constitution emerges. That is what our Founding Fathers did.

If we give the interim government control over oil revenues and transfer authority on an ongoing basis, it will be easier for the Iraqi people to see that those blowing up pipelines are sabotaging their future. If we give civilians a stake in stemming the violence, they will help us solve this problem.

As of today, 383 of our soldiers have been killed in action.

When he died, Sergeant Bucklew was only 33. In Fort Carson, Colo., his wife and two sons are grieving. Not a single soldier from Fort Carson died before May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat. More than 20 Fort Carson soldiers have died since.

It is unconscionable to allow our country to continue staggering down the track that we're on in Iraq. Bush keeps saying we need to "stay the course." We need to change the course. With a strategy to succeed, our armed forces will turn things around.

Wesley Clark, a retired general, is a Democratic candidate for president.

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