Time to dust off the 'Q-word' for Iraq?

Sunni Muslims parade the mutilated bodies of four Americans through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, as thousands cheer. The American military response is the encirclement of the city, a nighttime curfew, and throwing up barricades across possible escape routes. But the battle around Fallujah goes on through the week, with a dozen marines killed in one day.

In the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City - formerly Saddam City - a radical Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose father and two brothers were executed by Saddam Hussein, leads a militia uprising in which eight American soldiers are slain. The Shiites represent a new threat to the American-led coalition. Sunnis and Shiites fighting on the same side confront the coalition with an unexpected two-front insurgency.

The Governing Council announces an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr without saying when it will be executed. Meanwhile, the Shiite uprising spreads to other cities and towns.

Ironically, the Sadr insurrection was touched off by the American suppression of his incendiary newspaper - democracy in Iraq is still a tentative thing.

The fiery Sadr proclaims that he has forged links with the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hizbullah. Volunteers for the holy war are reportedly infiltrating from Syria. When President Bush said that Iraq was a central front in the war on terrorism, he may have been only premature.

Eleven months after Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the repatriation of 135,000 American troops is on hold and the Pentagon mumbles something about reinforcement as a contingency. Clearly the Pentagon, expecting flower-strewn streets, failed to foresee that some Iraqis might fight for liberation from their liberators.

Bush insists that the June 30 date for transfer of authority to some Iraqi entity still holds. But he expresses himself in a curious way: "The intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same."

How does the American public react to all this? A Pew Research poll taken after Fallujah says that 57 percent of Americans still believe that war in Iraq was the right decision. But 57 percent - the same ratio - don't think that Bush has a clear plan for ending it.

Maybe it's time to dust off that unhappy word from Vietnam days - quagmire. For those too young to remember, quagmire means that, whether or not you should have been there in the first place, you're stuck there now because you can't get out without making things infinitely worse.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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