SO, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THIS WAR?

Nicholas D. Kristof

A U.S. security report earlier this year about Iraq declared: "Recently, hostile forces have attempted to lure coalition forces into ambushes by feigned a breakdown and detonated his vehicle when four soldiers approached, killing them all."

"It is not recommended you stop your convoy to offer assistance to 'wounded/injured' Iraqis." That's a parable for America's challenge in Iraq. We know we need to win over hearts and minds, but who wants to be blown up helping Iraqis who seem to be injured in car crashes?

I've been quiet on Iraq lately because it's so tempting - but rather unhelpful - to rant one more time about Resident George W. Bush's folly in starting this war. It's far harder to figure out what to do now that he's gotten us chest-deep in the mire.

I'm not certain that we can make a success out of Iraq, and the question John Kerry posed in 1971 is still a fair one: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"One senses an impatient rustling as people look for the exits from Iraq.

Yet rushing out would be a mistake. If American gives up on Iraq, it will collapse into civil war, leaving Iraqis worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein and turning the country with the world's second-largest oil reserves into a failed state that spawns terrorists. There are a few steps we can take that offer some hope of a turnaround for America's occupation:

- Deploy 25,000 additional troops in Iraq for at least a few months to try to achieve a secure transition.

- Stick to the June 30 transition and give the Iraqis full sovereignty. The Bush administration's plan to convey only what it calls "limited sovereignty" is a mistake, for it risks inflaming Iraqi nationalism. The only hope of getting Iraqis to behave responsibly is to give them responsibility.

- Count to one googolplex before rushing into Falluja and Najaf to wipe out the resistance. Most Iraqis know that Moktada al-Sadr is a hotheaded blowhard. But nationalism leads Iraqis to rally around anyone we go after. We have already made Sadr a hero by closing his newspaper, and our best hope for destroying him is to leave him alone, let Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani discredit him and let the shadowy Thulfikar Army carve up his Mahdi militia.

- Dump Ahmad Chalabi and other carpetbaggers. They are American stooges who undermine the legitimacy of any government they are in. The Dawa and Sciri religious parties may agree with us less, but they have genuine support and can be the building blocks of a transitional Iraqi government. If we give them real authority, there will be a convergence of interest: Dawa and Sciri want a stable Iraq even more than we do.

- Disentangle ourselves from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, that bloodstained figure embraced by President George W. Bush as "a man of peace." By assassinating Hamas leaders and threatening to do the same to Yasser Arafat, Sharon is undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq. Bush squandered America's legitimacy in Iraq when he and Sharon chummily gave away Palestinian rights this month.

- Bring back the most professional and least political Baathist generals. Iraq's most desperate need now is for security, and we need the.

Bush is starting to move on a few of these issues, but he needs to act more decisively on each. Only then would America have some hope of stanching the sacrifice of young soldiers - those whom Wilfred Owen, the great World War I poet, unforgettably described thus:

The pallor of girl's brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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