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Success in Iraq? Try Listening to the Troops

I spent parts of three years reporting in Iraq and have been reporting on the stories of American veterans since my return. Most of the troops I speak to believe the war is already lost.
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President Bush spent Labor Day weekend in Iraq trying to drum up support for his latest war funding effort -- a $50 billion demand to Congress, which would bring the total outlay on the war in Iraq to about $200 billion this year (or almost $4 billion a week).

Speaking in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, Bush said America is now seeing "success" in Iraq and that he will only "draw down" his surge "if the kind of success we're now seeing continues."

Success in Iraq?

I spent parts of three years reporting in Iraq and have been reporting on the stories of American veterans since my return. Most of the troops I speak to believe the war is already lost.

Take Specialist Patrick Resta. The South Carolina served a year in Baqouba, near the Iranian border. Two days before he left Iraq he asked one of his buddies to a take a photo of him with a group of Iraqi children.

"I wasn't looking at what the children were doing along side of me and he hands the camera back to me and I see that I'm surrounded by children who are between eight- and 10-years-old. One of them is holding up a Hitler salute and on the other side of me one of the children is holding up a local newspaper with the Abu Ghraib torture photos on the front cover," Resta told me.

"So that was the impression that I left Iraq with -- that we had radicalized a whole generation of Iraqis to hate this country and hate Americans."

Or consider the example of Specialist Joshua Casteel, who arrived as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib after the prisoner abuse scandal broke and found almost all the detainees were innocent.

"I was constantly being asked, tell me about freedom, about democracy, why am I being held here, I want answers," Casteel told me. "And the detainees were the ones wanting answers. But that was our job. We were supposed to be finding answers to our questions."

(Casteel's observations are backed up by the International Red Cross, which monitors prisoners in U.S. custody, estimates 70 to 90 percent of those arrested were plucked off the street by mistake).

With experiences like these it's no wonder that an overwhelming number of American soldiers and Marines want the war to end. In February 2006, pollster John Zogby conducted a survey of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. Seventy-two percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw "immediately."

After more than four years of war, most American soldiers know the same things about Iraq that the American people do: that the invasion of Iraq was based on lies, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks and that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

"That was my first slap in the face and everybody already knew there were no weapons," Lance Corporal Jeff Key told me, explaining how he came to oppose the war after serving in Iraq. "That was not news that got in to us. By the time it was there -- they'll spill anything to these young people in the military. The last thing that Bush Co. and his crowd wants is for the truth to get out of Iraq or Iraq or into Iraq. That's why they're stopping military people from blogging and that's why they don't want soldiers in Iraq to know that there are Iraq war veterans here in this country that are speaking out against this war."

I'm sure these veterans would love to share their stories with President Bush -- to give him a piece of their mind. In the meantime, I've posted them, along with other true, first-person accounts of the war, on-line at Perhaps members of Congress will take a listen, and decide that funding the war in Iraq isn't such a smart idea anymore.

Aaron Glantz is an award-winning journalist who reported from Iraq over the first three years of the war, and is the author of the best-selling book, How America Lost Iraq.