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On May 1, George W. Bush landed in a military jet on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln with all the pomp and ceremony of Caesar returning to Rome after conquering Gaul. In the background – as our commander in chief proclaimed “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” – was a huge banner reading “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED,” probably conjured up by White House flacks.

There was just one problem: No one told the guerrilla enemy the war was over.

Since the president played Top Gun, hundreds of our troops have been killed or wounded, and dozens of major combat operations have been launched or are ongoing all over that unfortunate country.

A lesson presidents JFK, LBJ and RMN learned the hard way was not to jive the people when they found themselves stuck in the Vietnam quagmire – because all the double talk in the world won’t disappear the truth of the casualty lists.

But we’re still not getting much straight talk about what’s really going down in Iraq, especially from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who recently announced that we weren’t facing a guerrilla war there.

Hello?!

Whatever Rummy wants to call it, we’re still stuck in a classic Phase I Guerrilla War (G-War). And every day, Iraq becomes a more dangerous place, with the potential of becoming even worse if our brass don’t start understanding the enemy and the nature of the same sort of G-type ops that crippled Napoleon in Spain, bloodied the Brits in Northern Ireland and postponed the peace process in Israel.

This won’t be the first time I’ve crossed swords with Rumsfeld over his assessment of ground operations in Iraq – which I’ve come to believe he and his principal Pentagon advisers know frighteningly little about. During the invasion, I took a lot of heat over my evaluation that we were going into Iraq too light and with the wrong mix of troops. It was clear to me that we needed more line doggies, combat MPs to restore order and engineers, civil-affairs and psychological-warfare people to get the country up and running soonest to start winning the hearts and minds of the millions of Iraqis who wanted the coalition to rebuild Iraq and then go home, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong. For a G-War to succeed strategically in Iraq, it would have to evolve from the Phase I hit-and-run attacks we’re seeing now to Phase II battalion and regimental attacks to Phase III – a full-blown army taking Baghdad as Giap’s force took Saigon in 1975.

To escalate the ongoing G-War, insurgents need sanctuaries like Giap had in Laos and Cambodia for much of the war, as well as the resources of a significant power such as the Soviets and Red Chinese, who provided billions of dollars in arms to our enemies during the Vietnam War.

Fortunately, Syria and Iran are cowed.

But the main task for our leaders is to cut the spin and deal with the G’s: a lethal mix of street gangs, Islamic crazies, Arab mujahedins and hardened criminals released from Iraqi prisons by Saddam, all stirred on perhaps by the Mustached Monster and certainly by many of his crew, who lost their cushy deal when our warriors put them out of the repression biz.

The way to do this is, of course, to win the people. As Mao proved long ago, the people are the supportive water and the G’s are the fish. Disappear the water and the fish will flop around on parched riverbanks, easy pickings for a barbecue.

This conversion won’t be brought about by U.S. armor brigades doing “shock and awe” to peasant villages or a U.S. Army soldier killing a 12-year-old boy as he stood on the roof of his family’s home. The soldier said the boy was holding an AK-47. His family insists he had no weapon and was on the roof to escape the heat. Now his family – newly manufactured water for the G’s – has vowed revenge by a factor of 10.

Pentagon propagandists might prefer to categorize our serious daily losses in Iraq as non-guerrilla related and “militarily insignificant.”

Tell that to the grunts down-range from the G’s. Or their loved ones sweating them out.

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