03/09/07

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, Saint Mary's Republicans and Democrats remain at odds in their assessments of the war.

Panelists from the College Democrats and Republicans outlined their parties' positions on Iraq and sparred over President Bush's proposal to send more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to the country during a March 8 debate sponsored by Speech Force, the recently re-established student speech and debate society.

"We're winning the war in Iraq," Michael Antonopoulos, a sophomore and member of the College Republicans leadership team, told the audience of about 40 students in Delphine Lounge.

Antonopolous cited statistics about increasing voter turnout, hospital construction and teacher training in Iraq, but warned that these accomplishments were still fragile.

"It would be unfair to the Iraqi people to remove Saddam and then leave because we are sick of the war," he said.

Arguing against the Bush administration's proposed troop increase, College Democrats President Nathan Garcia pointed to the continuing increase in casualties for both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, and noted that more than 60 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to leave.

"Troops surges haven't worked, this war hasn't worked and the time has come for the Iraqi government to be more responsible for its own fate," said Garcia, who advocated pursuing a recent proposal by Congressional Democrats for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2008.

Panelists parsed the Iraq Study Group Report, evaluated U.S. military commander David Petraeus' 11-point counterinsurgency plan and interpreted Iraqi polling data in response to questions prepared by Speech Force.

Democratic panelist Elizabeth Ashman, a sophomore Speech Force member, expressed doubts about a troop increase now.

"As troop levels have increased, the number of deaths has increased. Military force is aggravating the situation," Ashman said. "We're sending more soldiers who are trained to fight, not to solve political problems."

Collegian columnist Scott Cullinane, a sophomore Republican representative, presented a more optimistic view and argued that strategic changes in Baghdad and Anbar province need to be given a chance to work.

"Most of Iraq is safe," he said. "Fourteen out of the country's 18 provinces are peaceful, but the nature of counterinsurgency warfare requires more troops in the short term."

The panelists agreed before the debate to not focus on the 2003 decision to go to war, but discussed various topics ranging from Great Britain's redeployment of troops from Iraq, Iran and Syria's roles in regional diplomacy and whether fighting between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis has escalated to the point of civil war.

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications

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