In the past two weeks, at least 10 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, prompting U.S. forces to launch a massive operation to search for militants who have been organizing attacks on coalition troops. U.S. officials say the attacks are hampering plans to bring security to Iraq and begin the huge task of re-building the country. Middle East analysts in the United States are divided over whether U.S. soldiers should withdraw soon from Iraq, or stay there for years, to make sure a democratic government with no ties to terrorism emerges after the war.
Two months after Baghdad was captured by coalition forces, American soldiers and Iraqis continue to die on the battlefield.
In response, the U.S. Army has begun what is being described as one of the largest military operations in Iraq since the end of the war. Thousands of soldiers are surrounding a large area north of the capital, where reportedly Baath Party loyalists responsible for carrying out attacks on U.S. troops are harbored.
U.S. officials say there is evidence that Iraqis are being paid to attack coalition soldiers.
When President Bush, from the deck of an aircraft carrier, declared an end to major combat operations May 1, many thought the war was largely over.
The continued fighting, however, is sparking new estimates of the length of time troops will have to stay in Iraq, before a new government can be formed.
John Hulsman is a specialist in foreign policy, and is currently an analyst with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. Mr. Hulsman says the U.S. military in Iraq must withdraw soon, or America will be viewed as an imperialistic nation.
"If you stay too long and fail, by doing that you do become crusader-imperialists," he said. "You do become a recruiting poster for al-Qaida. You are seen, whether it be rightly or wrongly, and I would argue largely wrongly, you are seen as someone who is just there to garrison the country."
Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, disagrees. He says U.S. soldiers need to stay in Iraq for years to oversee an entire overhaul of the government and society.
"What we certainly cannot do is get in and out fast, as some had hoped. We have to be prepared to stay there at least for several years," he said. "The work that we will have to do will involve constructing new political institutions in that country, helping to train a new elite, a new political elite, dismantling the old elite and trying to cultivate a kind of new public opinion among the Iraqi citizenry."
Leon Hadar is the former Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post newspaper, and the author of a book called "Quagmire: America in the Middle East."
Mr. Hadar says history has shown that the Middle East has proven to be what he calls a graveyard for the great expectations of great powers.
Mr. Hadar argues that, even recent efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process using the blueprint known as the "road map," will not help win the international war on terrorism.
"Making peace in the Holy Land is not going to pacify Osama bin Laden," he said. "Even if the draining of the swamp in the Middle East was a doable project, and it is not, it is not going to bring an end to terrorism. The United States could find itself drowning more deeply into the Middle East swamp and playing into the hands of the terrorists. Moreover, I think we should realize that the American people, at the end of the day, will not be ready to sustain an empire in the Middle East."
John Zogby is a pollster in the United States, who conducts surveys for large American corporations, numerous news organizations and political groups.
He has recently conducted polls in the Middle East of attitudes toward the United States.
Mr. Zogby says opinions of the United States will continue to be low in predominantly Muslim nations, until U.S. soldiers are withdrawn from Iraq. "The American occupation of Iraq has got to end," he said. "This has got to be a United Nations effort, a goodwill building effort. The longer that this is seen, and it is seen, as an imperialistic venture on the part of the United States, the more trouble we find for ourselves, especially at a time when there are people who want to believe that the road map to peace is something that this administration takes seriously. I don't think the two, juxtaposed with each other, can coexist."
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior analyst who specializes in U.S. defense strategy at the Brookings Institution, predicts American soldiers will still be in Iraq at least five years from now. "We have to stay. I don't think there is any doubt about it," he said. "This country is too important to the region and to our interests and to the greater campaign against weapons of mass destruction and global terror for the United States to essentially hope for the best and begin to withdraw prematurely."
The United Nations has approved a resolution declaring the United States and its allies the occupying authority in Iraq.
While analysts disagree over how long American soldiers should stay in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says they will be there as long as is necessary, but not one day longer.
U.S. defense officials have been careful not to estimate the length of the occupation, just as they refused to estimate how long the war itself would last.