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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- Death in Iraq is a daily event for American troops as they are increasingly vulnerable to ambushes and attacks in an atmosphere that is terribly hostile and bound to get worse.

The bodies of two American soldiers who disappeared last week were found, but the military is refusing to say how they were abducted and killed.

Six British troops were massacred when they went to a village police station for a prearranged meeting. The culprits are suspected of being Fedayeen militiamen still loyal to the departed Saddam Hussein.

What's more chilling is that local people may have helped set up the members of Britain's Royal Military Police who were working near the city of Amarah trying to help establish some sense of civil order.

The same day, eight other British troops were wounded, three of them seriously, when their helicopter came under fire as it went to help a stricken military patrol under attack from rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.

An American soldier was wounded when he was shot in the neck while shopping at a Baghdad video store. Fifteen thousand American troops are occupying Baghdad, a city of five million people.

The Iraqi capital is still largely without electricity, with temperatures hitting 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dipping to a miserable 100 degrees at night. Conditions are unbearable for the people there, and for American troops as well, as they must live in constant fear, with no word when they will go home.

The euphoria of two months ago has quickly evolved into open hostility between the suffering people and the overburdened troops, who have to cope with snipers, saboteurs and assassins.

Violence is a way of life in post-war Iraq, and no one from the Bush administration is willing to be forthright with the American people by providing them with any indication of how long this will last and at what cost.

American military commanders say this is not guerrilla warfare, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gives us the stunning reassurance that the violence in Iraq is no worse than in your typical large American city.

What we are seeing in our new colony is that the Bush administration had no real plan to reconstruct the nation politically and socially after Saddam got out of town.

Sure, there are billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for Bush administration-favored corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton to rebuild infrastructure and get that oil flowing. That's easy and very profitable.

But in taking care of human needs -- providing clean water, sewage treatment, safe streets and responsible local governments to carry out those vital functions -- the Pentagon's imperial rule is a monumental failure.

As for local elections and self-rule in "liberated" Iraq -- forget about it. The Washington Post reports U.S. military commanders nixed elections in cities and towns across Iraq, instead installing their own handpicked mayors and administrators to run the local governments.

And to further fuel anger and resentment, many of those chosen are former Iraqi military leaders, and that is enraging middle-class professionals who dare to suggest that Iraqis make decisions for Iraq.

Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher in Sammara, was a candidate for mayor in that city until the elections were abruptly canceled. He tells the Post the move is simply insulting.

"They give us a general. What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city."

So our generals pick their failed generals to try to end the chaos and restore order, and we wonder why the Iraqi people grow more resentful by the day.

L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator for Iraq, says you can't rush into self-rule and elections are oh so unpredictable. Viceroy Bremer warns, "Elections that are held too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very carefully."

Bahith Sattar knows democracy is flawed, but argues the people of Iraq should have a say in their own destiny. "The new mayors do not have to be perfect. But I think that by allowing us to establish our own governments, many of the problems today would be solved. If you ask most Iraqis today if they have a government, they will tell you no, what we have is an occupation, and that is a dangerous thing for people to think."

Iraq would be far better off if we stopped the foolish hunt for the elusive weapons of mass destruction and committed our resources and time to the difficult, but more worthwhile, task of building democratic institutions and getting the troops out of harm's way and back home.

President Bush gets peeved when anyone questions the evidence used to justify the war. "Now there are some who would like to rewrite history, revisionist historians is what I like to call them," the president said in a speech. I find it especially amusing that this president, who has absolutely no sense of history whatsoever, would make such an assessment, but he read the line well.

The real revisionist history comes from the president and his men, who are trying their best to cover their tracks in the wild exaggerations they used to lead the nation into war.

The whopper of the week goes to Field Marshall Rumsfeld, who actually said, with a straight face, "I don't know anybody in any government or any intelligence agency who suggested that the Iraqis had nuclear weapons."

Either Rumsfeld is suffering from major brain damage, perhaps caused by decades of gin drunks, or he is lying. CIA director George Tenet told us Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. And always-truthful Vice President Dick Cheney said of Saddam Hussein, flat out, "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." We revise. You decide.

In an excellent piece of reporting in "The New Republic" magazine, John Judis and Spencer Ackerman detail the Bush administration's deliberate deceptions in selling the Iraq war.

"The Bush administration took office pledging to restore 'honor and dignity' to the White House. And it's true: Bush has not gotten caught having sex with an intern or lying about it under oath. But he has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decision a government must make. The United States may have been justified in going to war in Iraq -- there were after all other rationales for doing so -- but it was not justified in doing so on the national security grounds that President Bush put forth throughout last fall and winter. He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war."

The Republican-controlled Congress won't raise the obvious question: What did the president know and when did he know it? It's up to the American people to press the issue and demand answers, as the Bush re-election campaign goes into full throttle.

But be careful how you do it. You might get into trouble. Just ask Brett Bursey. Last October, Bursey went to Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, S.C., waiting for President Bush to arrive on Air Force One. Bursey held up a sign that read "No War for Oil."

Although he was on public property, Bursey was arrested for trespassing. That local charge was quickly dropped, but then U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. brought federal charges against Bursey, using a little-known law that allows the Secret Service to restrict access to areas the president is visiting.

People holding pro-Bush signs were allowed to do so. Several members of Congress have written to Attorney General John "The Puritan" Ashcroft, urging him to drop the charges and insisting, "No plausible argument can be made that Mr. Bursey was threatening the president by holding a sign which the president found politically offensive." Ashcroft is proceeding with the prosecution.

We celebrate independence, freedom and the birth of our nation this week. We must note sadly that, under George W. Bush's watch, we are steadily losing freedoms and the quality of our democracy is weakened.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 1 2003