Iraq: how to move on

Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq have been proved right in almost every respect. Far from Saddam Hussein being ready to launch WMDs against the west, he had no such weapons. Far from the war making us all safer, we seem now in the middle of what Steven Metz, of the US Army War College, has called "the first global insurgency". Far from Iraq promising to provide a model for democracy in the Middle East, it is at present providing a model for anarchy.

We must nevertheless move on, we are told. It's no use looking back and playing the blame game, no use crying over spilt blood. The policies of British and American leaders have led to a catastrophe, exactly as their critics predicted. But those critics are now invited to consider the situation as they find it.

Very well. Let us do just that. US soldiers are dying in Iraq at the rate of one a day, the Iraqi police at more than three a day. Nobody counts civilian deaths, but they must total several thousand. Nearly every major city, Shia as well as Sunni, is in a state of revolt. The Americans - who have just completed the biggest troop rotation since 1945 - have tried a low-profile and now, with the arrival of the marines in Fallujah, a high-profile attempt to take back hostile areas street by street. In neither case have they achieved pacification.

Two responses to this situation are possible, both drawing on historical parallels of dubious validity. The first is to regard Mr Metz's "global insurgency" as fascist in nature and to see Iraq playing the same role in today's world as Spain played in the 1930s. In this analysis, the western democracies should not repeat their errors and abandon Iraq as they abandoned Spain. There are certainly disturbing fascist echoes among al-Qaeda supporters across the Muslim world, as Nick Cohen details on page 22. And paramilitary followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the inspiration behind the current Shia rising in Iraq, go around in black shirts and pants, banging people up in private prisons and murdering their rivals. But "fascist" is an imprecise, catch-all term, which has been applied as readily to Saddam and his Sunni-dominated Ba'ath Party as to Shia theocrats; and Spain in the 1930s, unlike Iraq now, had a legitimate socialist government. In any case, if you wanted an anti-fascist leader in the Arab world, you would not choose so distrusted a power as the United States. Possibly, the US, having been thanked for overthrowing Saddam, could then have done nothing right. But it does itself no favours by behaving in the time-honoured fashion of a colonial power. Mr al-Sadr may be an unsavoury character, but what on earth did Paul Bremer, the de facto governor, think he was doing when he closed the cleric's small-circulation newspaper merely because it published nonsense?

This takes us to the second possible response to the Iraq imbroglio, which sees the proper parallel as being with the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath in the 1980s. Here is a more plausible analogy, which involves a great power expecting rapidly to subjugate what was once a client state and getting drawn into a long, draining war that becomes a rallying cry for Islamist militants around the world. We all know the results of that. On this analysis, the US should stick to its 30 June deadline and get out.

Except that it won't. The Iraqis won't have control of their own country. The US will have 110,000 soldiers there for at least two more years. The Iraqi army, at least for a time, will be answerable to a US commander. The interim government will be prohibited from reversing laws that open the economy to foreign ownership. "Independent" regulators will stop ministers reversing, for example, communications licences awarded to foreign firms. Aid for the reconstruction of electricity and water services, the oil industry and the courts and police will be controlled by the US embassy. All this, again, looks very much as the war critics predicted: the US wants control of the oil and work for its corporations.

Far from being shy of "nation-building", America attemp-ted it repeatedly throughout the 20th century. Except in Germany and Japan after the Second World War (relatively advanced countries with some traditions of good governance), it nearly always failed. You need look only at America's neighbours to see that. Haiti's constitution in the 1910s was written by no less a person than Franklin D Roosevelt. Need more be said? Countries are best left to sort out their affairs and achieve their own liberation, as eastern Europe and South Africa did. Iraq, it is said, would face civil war - but that is the oldest excuse for prolonging colonial occupation. The Americans should leave promptly and completely, and be replaced by the UN - if the Iraqis wish it. Now move on.

The threat we all must face

The Prime Minister writes: the threat to the marriage of Posh and Becks is real and existential. I have spoken to President Bush and we agree that, since Colonel Gaddafi has left a vacancy in the axis of evil, it should be filled by Rebecca Loos, David Beckham's alleged lover. Many say the government should concentrate on the issues that got us elected in 1997: jobs, health, education, crime. I share that view. But I know, too, that this issue can't be just swept away. Some say there is no imminent threat to the marriage. That is a matter not of trust but of judgement. I tell you, honestly, what my fear is: that we wake up one day and we find a woman has unleashed weapons of mass seduction with all the devastation to the Beckhams' way of life that would cause. You may say, hey, we should talk about something else. But - I'm a pretty straight guy - I'd rather you all talked about this than about Iraq.

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