It is likely that the next phase of the war will be the worst in terms

of human loss.

PORTLAND (AP) – As American troops take up positions near Baghdad, Jerice Goulet of Saco is torn between hope and anxiety.

“You don’t know what’s waiting there, what they’re going to have up their sleeve, so to speak,” Goulet said. “But by the same token, the closer they get there, the closer they are to wrapping this up and coming home.”

Goulet’s fears for her son, Mariner gunner Brad Gaumont, were magnified when she heard that U.S. soldiers had discovered white powder and chemical warfare instructions south of Baghdad.

The idea that Saddam Hussein might unleash chemical weapons on the troops massing outside the city adds to her unease as the war enters what could be its final phase.

Although an assault on Baghdad could pose the bloodiest fighting of the war, many like Goulet hope it means that the end of the conflict is near and that the rebuilding of the country can begin.

“They’ve been put at serious risk,” said Mary Elizabeth Cori-Jones, who helped to organize a Women in Black anti-war march in Portland. “They knew urban fighting is the worst kind of fighting. We want them home.”

Cori-Jones said that with the number of civilian casualties sure to rise with an assault on the city, she worries about the psychological impact on service members.

Jen Hodsdon of Portland said she believes that Iraq does have chemical weapons, but she never believed they posed the threat to the United States that the administration warned.

However, the 26-year-old war opponent said she does fear the threat they pose to the soldiers gathering outside Baghdad. She hopes the troops’ arrival at Iraq’s main city means a swift end to the war.

“Lots and lots of people already have died for this conflict. Of course I want our folks to return home as quickly as possible . . . I also want things to return to safety in Iraq for those people as quickly as possible.”

Michael Whitehouse of Freeport, whose son Sgt. Michael John Whitehouse operates a Patriot missile battery providing support for advancing troops, says the worst may come after coalition forces take control of the country.

“When you’re trying to make the peace and reorganize the country, you’re still going to have a whole bunch of imbedded fanatics who will just be part of the crowds. I would consider them more dangerous to the American troops than an actual fighting force.”

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