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Petraeus's remarks a cause for reflection

Iraq benchmarks draw a mixture of pride, heartbreak

As Roz Pendleton watched the American death toll climb in Iraq, she took comfort in what the Bush administration said was the reason for the war: that by fighting in Iraq, American troops are helping protect the United States.

But this week, the top US military officer in Iraq said that he did not know whether continuing the war is making America safer. That left people like Pendleton grappling with the question of whether the war is worth the lives it has cost.

"I've had a lot of people that I know that have had their sons and daughters and uncles and aunts lost in that war, and the question is why," said Pendleton, 60, a career coach from Dorchester. "And if he says now 'I don't know,' then I question that."

Asked whether US military strategy in Iraq was making America safer, General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday: "Sir, I don't know, actually. I haven't sat down and sorted it out in my own mind."

Reflecting on the statement yesterday, some who are making the biggest sacrifices - by going to war or losing friends or relatives to the conflict - said Petraeus's testimony did not change their belief that fighting in Iraq is the right thing to do. Others said the general's comments were disheartening and underscored the futility of the US effort in Iraq.

Tiffany Little, whose husband, Specialist Kyle A. Little of West Boylston, was killed in Iraq in May, said the losses inflicted by the war have gone toward goals that extend beyond America's immediate security.

"A lot of what's going on now is to rebuild Iraq, and that doesn't have a lot to do with America's safety," said Little, who lives in Alabama and is pregnant with the couple's first child. "If we help rebuild Iraq and make it a successful country, maybe they won't come here to attack us."

Little was not sure whether that was a good enough reason to keep the troops in Iraq. The war's "purpose does seem to be dwindling away and it does seem to be time to start pulling away," she said.

Specialist Curtis Frye III, of Falmouth, who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq this month, said he was not going to let the question of whether his deployment will protect the United States concern him.

"I do believe in the mission I'm going to do," said Frye, who will serve as a military police with Battery C of the 103d Field Artillery Regiment of the National Guard. "I'm doing something that my country has asked me to do."

But Elizabeth Flagg, whose sister, Massachusetts Army National Guard Sergeant Rebekah Spencer, left for Iraq last month for a yearlong combat tour, said she had never believed the war in Iraq kept America safe. Petraeus's comment, Flagg said, only emphasized to her the futility of the war.

"It's sad to think that we would be somewhere fighting a war and have a general say that he doesn't think that it's making America safer," said Flagg, who is caring for Spencer's two teenage children while Spencer is deployed.

"Then why should we be there, if it's not to make the world a better place?" said Flagg, who coordinates graduate programs at Boston University.

"It's very unnerving," said Laurie Cormier, an animal groomer from Boston. Cormier said one of her friends is serving in Iraq as a special operations officer.

"I feel that my friend is there not serving a purpose," she said. "He wants America to be safe - that's why he thinks he's serving. But it's just [President] Bush not wanting to pull out because it would make him look bad."

"It makes me heartbroken," Cormier said.

Pendleton, the career coach from Dorchester, said Petraeus's remark was a sign that it was time for the United States to pull out of Iraq and focus more on domestic issues.

"I live in the area of the city where there's so much crime that grandmothers get shot on their porches," she said. "Our first and foremost responsibility is to take care of our own. It's time we start thinking more about how we can make this country safe."

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