Remember Iraq?

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(HOST) News reports from Iraq have been knocked off the front page in recent weeks, but commentator Bill Seamans thinks that’s about to change again.

(SEAMANS) It looks like a perfect storm is swamping the White House – the Katrina cronyism debacle, the embarrassing inquiries involving top Republican leaders Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, and Bill Frist – and then the threat of an Avian bird flu pandemic which commanded a five minute dialogue from President Bush during his recent news conference – these stories and others have diverted the public’s attention from the Iraq war and pushed it into the news background – almost unnoticed except by the families of those who are serving or have fallen.

The price of gasoline and the baseball and football scores are fervently discussed but not the tragic daily toll of GI’s and Marines killed in action.

Answering rising criticism, Bush said the goals in Iraq were being met and he added, “We will stay, we will fight.” Meanwhile, those of us who have been paying attention to the Iraq situation were confused by the somber outlook of our military commanders who cited the slow progress training Iraqi troops to replace American forces. In Congressional testimony they said only one battalion of Iraqis (about seven hundred men) was capable of combat without American support despite more positive claims.

Then Central Command General Douglas Lute said significant numbers of our troops would be pulled out of Iraq in the next twelve months regardless of the increasing insurgent violence. But Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said he was planning for the possibility that our troop levels would be maintained until 2009. President Bush called news media talk about troop levels rumors and speculation. And then White House spokesman Scott McClel- lan said, “Any suggestion that there is disagreement between the President and our military commanders in Iraq is absurd.”

While we the people are being confused by seemingly contradic- tory statements, the war in Iraq has acquired a Vietnam lexicon. We hear more and more talk of a quagmire and mission creep in a war with no coherent strategy and no end in sight. Then recently it sounded like we were back sitting in the Five O’Clock Follies (the daily Saigon news briefings whose credibility was ridiculed by the press) when it was announced that enemy body counts would henceforth be a measure of U.S. military success in Iraq – a misleading estimate that our generals used during the Vietnam war.

On Saturday, Iraqis will vote on whether to approve a controversial draft constitution that hopefully will pave the way for the election of a new government in December. The outcome could determine how much longer our troops will remain hostage in Iraq – and I’m sure that this coming weekend the Iraq story will break through even the baseball and football scores and regain the top of the news budget where it truly should be.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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