Rebuilding of Iraq is U.S. thrust now

Thursday, May 1, 2003

From the deck of an aircraft carrier, President Bush is expected to address the nation tonight to say that major combat in Iraq has ended. That's good news for the U.S. soldiers who have been involved in fierce fighting and family members back home who have been worried about them.

But now work begins in earnest to help rebuild the country and to assist an infant Iraqi government bring democracy to its people and put the recent era of terrorism and torture behind them.

It is a source of pride to know that soon Southeast Missourians will be directly involved in that work, ready to roll up their camouflaged sleeves to help. Within the next two weeks, 26 Southeast Missouri Army Reservists from the 348th Engineer Company will be in northern Iraq to help build roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure.

The work won't be easy. The cost of rebuilding Iraq is estimated at $20 billion a year over the next three years, and many of the projects involved are huge.

These soldiers have jobs that don't sound much like military occupations: carpenters, plumbers, masons, welders, heavy-equipment operators and cooks. But what they do will be just as important as those who flew planes and carried M-16s.

Maybe more so.

And while the major fighting has ended -- as the unit's company commander Maj. Leo Buccheit points out -- Iraq is still a volatile place. There are still snipers, land mines and some anti-American sentiment by some Iraqis.

That was made more evident this week when U.S. soldiers were forced to return unprovoked fire at an anti-American rally. Clearly, Iraq is still not a safe place to be.

But the Southeast Missouri soldiers aren't worried about themselves. They're concerned about their families back home, who will have to do without them for up to 18 months. There are many sacrifices being made.

A soldier's wife said she hopes the country appreciates these efforts. She should take solace in knowing that patriotic Americans most certainly do.

There have been other developments on the war front:

While some detractors keep insisting on calling the U.S. role in Iraq an occupation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad this week and pledged that the troops would leave as soon as possible. By the way, Rumsfeld is the first top Bush administration official to visit Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein -- if it was indeed him -- said in a letter published in a leading Arabic newspaper that Iraqis should throw out U.S. and British forces.

Bad pennies keep on turning up. Another senior Iraqi official on the U.S. military's most-wanted list has reportedly surrendered. Walid Hamid al-Tikriti, the former governor of the southern city of Basra, had surrendered in Baghdad. Hamid is No. 44 on the most-wanted list.

An Iraqi lawyer who helped U.S commandos locate and rescue prisoner of war Jessica Lynch has been granted asylum in the United States. He deserves it.

U.S. forces have made significant progress in restoring electricity and water to Baghdad and hope to resume television and radio broadcasts by week's end.

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