‘It is Vietnam all over’

Veterans: stay out of Iraqi troubles

by W. Winston Skinner

As long as the troubles in Iraq stay in Iraq, the United States should stay out of it.

That was the consensus of Coweta-area veterans on Friday, as Iraq appeared to be on the verge of dissolving in the face of several insurgency movements. Army veteran Tim Gresham’s daughter served in Iraq.

“She says it was a hellhole. She didn’t wish that on anybody,” he said.

Neither does Gresham. Although the United States has invested trillions of dollars and given the lives of thousands of military personnel, he said America should not be involved any further.

“A lot of innocent people died – a lot of women and children who didn’t have anything to do with it,” Gresham said. “What’s done is done. There’s no changing that.”

“We should never have been in Iraq to begin with. It was a mistake from the beginning. So many dead and wounded U.S. GI's is the tragedy here,” said Newnan photographer Bob Shapiro, a veteran from the Vietnam era.

“What should we do? Stay the heck away from there – no troops, no airstrikes, no money. It is Vietnam all over,” he reflected.

“We created a political vacuum in Iraq. I am afraid the Iraqis need to be led by an iron hand, and it is now in the process of taking over. The government we created was doomed from the start,” he said.

Once the U.S. left the region, “the inevitable happened,” Shapiro said.

Gresham said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks propelled America into war in Iraq. Unless there is some other tangible danger to the United States, U.S. military forces should not go back there, he said.

“If it doesn’t affect us, leave it alone,” Gresham advised.

Pres. Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing a range of options for countering the violent Islamic insurgency in Iraq, but he warned government leaders in Baghdad the U.S. will not take military action unless they move to address deep political troubles.

"We're not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which, while we're there we're keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, after we're not there, people start acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country," Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House.

The president did not specify what options he was considering, but he ruled out sending American troops back into combat in Iraq. The last U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 after more than eight years of war.

Obama argued that the insurgency is not only a danger to the Iraqi people but also to American interests in a volatile region.

Administration officials said Obama is considering airstrikes using drones or manned aircraft. Other short-term options include an increase in surveillance and intelligence gathering, including satellite coverage and other monitoring efforts. The U.S. also is likely to increase various forms of aid to Iraq, including funding, training and providing both lethal and non-lethal equipment.

Obama suggested it could take several days before the administration finalizes its response to the situation on the ground in Iraq.

"We want to make sure we have gathered all the intelligence that is necessary so that if in fact I do direct and order any actions there that they are targeted, they're precise and they're going to have an effect," Obama said.

The al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has emerged as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrawal. It has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that could partition it into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.

Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in London Friday, urged Iraq's neighbors to also understand the gravity of the situation.

"Everybody in the region, every country that understands the importance of stability in the Middle East, needs to be concerned about what is happening with ISIL in Iraq today," Kerry said.

Iraq's Shiite clerical leadership have called on all Iraqis to defend their country from Sunni militants who have seized large swaths of territory, and a U.N. official expressed "extreme alarm" at reprisal killings in the offensive, citing reports of hundreds of dead and wounded.

A representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite spiritual leader in Iraq, told worshippers at Friday prayers that it was their civic duty to confront the threat.

"Citizens who can carry weapons and fight the terrorists in defense of their country, its people and its holy sites should volunteer and join the security forces," said Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, a cleric whose comments are thought to reflect al-Sistani's thinking.

He warned that Iraq faced "great danger" and that the responsibility of fighting the militants "is everybody's responsibility, and is not limited to one specific sect or group."

In Geneva, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned of "murder of all kinds" and other war crimes in Iraq, where her office says the number of those killed in recent days may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded could approach 1,000.

Pillay said her office has received reports that militants rounded up and killed Iraqi army soldiers as well as 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul.

Her office is hearing of "summary executions and extrajudicial killings" as ISIL militants overran Iraqi cities and towns this week, the statement said.

"I am extremely concerned about the acute vulnerability of civilians caught in the cross-fire, or targeted in direct attacks by armed groups, or trapped in areas under the control of ISIL and their allies," Pillay said in a statement. "And I am especially concerned about the risk to vulnerable groups, minorities, women and children."

Gresham said it is frustrating that the United States has spent so much money on Iraq only to see it collapse, but he said there are plenty of needs at home where tax dollars could be better spent. “We’re in debt,” he said, “because we helped them.”

(Associated Press reports contributed to this article.)

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