Helicopter fatalities should
not deter effort in Iraq


Twenty-seven Hawaii based service members were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

THE Iraq war's deadliest day for the U.S. mission was especially devastating for Hawaii, the base for a sailor and 26 of the 30 Marines who were killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday. Six other Marines were killed in combat on the same day. The state mourns the loss of these young heroes, who had volunteered to risk their lives for a noble cause. Their sacrifice should not deter U.S. resolve as long as achievement of a stable and secure democracy in Iraq is feasible.

Service members with Hawaii ties -- based here or who call Hawaii their home state -- now comprise 78 of the more than 1,400 U.S. fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 26 Marines who died in the helicopter crash brought the toll from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe to 42.

It remains unclear what caused the crash of the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter, but it apparently was not shot down. Military officials say the chopper was on a security mission in support of Sunday's election in Iraq. American helicopters routinely are flown at treetop level, bobbing and weaving to avert fire by insurgents. A sandstorm might have been a factor in the crash.

The tragedy is intensifying the focus on the Sunday elections as a critical event for Iraq and for continued U.S. military involvement. Opinion polls show Americans are evenly divided between those favoring withdrawal of some or all troops and those wanting troops levels to remain at current levels or be increased.

The helicopter crash was "a reminder of the risks inherent in military operations," President Bush said in an Al Arabiya satellite television interview. "We mourn the loss of life. But I am convinced we're doing the right thing by helping Iraq become a free country, because a free Iraq will have long-term effects in the world, and it will help the people of Iraq realize their dreams and aspirations and hopes."

Observers will be gauging the legitimacy of the weekend vote, not only in terms of voter turnout but in faction participation. Nearly 80 percent of eligible Shiite voters, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's population, and of Kurds, who account for 20 percent, indicated in a recent poll that they intend to cast ballots. Only 20 percent of the Sunni Arabs, who made up the regime of Saddam Hussein and whose leaders have called for a boycott of the election, are expected to vote.

The Shiites will be wise to provide Sunnis a significant role in the 275-person assembly to result from the election. The assembly is to select a new government and write a constitution, and will lead to more elections later this year. The exclusion of Sunnis from such a process would likely lead to a civil war.

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