WASHINGTON — A melee erupted in Baghdad Thursday at the funeral for three Iraqis killed by the United States during an overnight raid. The U.S. says the men were suspected terrorists. Friends and relatives say they were innocent victims.
59 American soldiers have died in Iraq already this month, making it one of the deadliest since the war began.
All this is happening as anti-war protestors on the homefront held candlelight vigils Wednesday night, calling for the troops to come home. The vigils were in response to an appeal by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier who has mobilized activists near President George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch.
As anti-war criticism grows, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed Purple Heart winners Thursday and strongly defended the conflict. "We are hunting down the terrorists and training Iraqi security forces so they can take over responsibility for defending their own country," said Cheney. "Over time, as Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down."
But the administration is also on the defensive because of newly-declassified State Department memos written a month before the war, warning of “serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance.”
According to the memo, the concerns were elevated: “We have raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials and General Garner."
Garner was the civilian administrator in Iraq. Now retired, Garner told NBC News today that he doesn't remember receiving the memo. “I may have gotten that memo, I don’t recall it. It never got through the intricacies of the Pentagon to me.”
“The Pentagon and the White House didn’t want to hear anything of it,” says David Phillips, who was on the State Department team warning of post-war conflict. “All they wanted to do was to accelerate their march to war.”
All of this is becoming a political problem, as even some Bush supporters worry about finding an exit strategy from Iraq while the death toll mounts — both for Iraqis and Americans.
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