The enthusiastic Marine who draped the Stars and Stripes over the face of the doomed Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad [front page, April 10] displayed the insensitive behavior for which Americans are known around the world. Symbolism is a potent force, and history offers few opportunities to use it for a greater good. This was one.

Imagine the long-term reverberations if the flag the Marine first produced had been Iraqi instead of American. Ich bin ein Bagdader!

JOE DOBROW

Potomac

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Please refrain from reporting as news, as Vernon Loeb and Jonathan Weisman did [news story, April 8], that medicine, food or other humanitarian supplies are lacking in Iraq because of United Nations sanctions. The sanctions had nothing to do with the lack of medical supplies in Iraq.

These supplies are depleted because Saddam Hussein refused to employ the U.N. oil-for-food program afforded to him after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He knew that Iraqis would die for lack of basic supplies if he did not use the program and that he could blame it on the sanctions. The Post should not give him this tiny victory even in the face of his overwhelming defeat.

MICHAEL K. STRANSKY

Arlington

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Before Ken Adelman issues another "I told you so" column castigating Brent Scowcroft and other less optimistic pundits [" 'Cakewalk' Revisited," op-ed, April 10], he and like-minded Bush administration hawks must realize that the hardest steps in the "liberation" of Iraq lie ahead.

The postwar diplomatic process will require as much precision and foresight as did the military campaign. The United States must quickly reimpose the rule of law to stop looting and prevent the formerly oppressed from taking revenge against those who subjugated them. Once basic rights are protected, we must build a government and civil structure from scratch, provide supplies for the needy and ensure that the replacement regime is a measurable improvement over the one we ousted.

Most important, the United States must reassure the world, particularly Muslims, that it is not a colonizing power.

The United States also should reengage the United Nations and allow weapons inspectors into a free Iraq. The discovery of weapons of mass destruction is crucial to justifying the administration's rationale for war. Not only would a recommitment to U.N. weapons inspections help mend the rift with our allies, but any discoveries of weapons of mass destruction will have more validity if they are announced by the United Nations rather than the United States.

BRIAN LEVY

Alexandria

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Jim Hoagland is right in defending the character of Ahmed Chalabi ["Return of an Iraqi Exile," op-ed, April 9], but he misses the point of why America should be wary of anointing Mr. Chalabi the leader of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

In the 1990s, Mr. Chalabi found his American supporters through a twofold application of the old adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend": He was opposed to Saddam Hussein's brutal rule and he was distrusted by many in the Clinton administration, making him a natural ally of his neoconservative boosters. Now these boosters risk a common political mistake more often seen in filling Cabinet posts than in making foreign policy: giving a supporter the position he wants rather than placing him in the post for which he is best suited.

Once before, the United States backed a Western-educated, U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern leader trying to rapidly Westernize his country with limited local support. The shah of Iran's rule led to an Islamic fundamentalist revolution, and the United States should do everything in its (far from absolute) power in Iraq to lay the groundwork for a new government created with those lessons in mind.

ANDREAS XENACHIS

Washington

The writer is a research assistant at the Brookings Institution.