Is the world safer now?

As war ended, our correspondents examined key questions about Iraq's future. With the elections looming, the updated answers highlight the global impact of the conflict

WHERE ARE THE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?

As we know now, they were never in Iraq, cutting away the rationale for going to war. But next door, Iran, the state most feared by Saddam Hussein, is now accused of being less than a year from a "point of no return" in building its own nuclear bomb - a direct result of the Iraq war. It has also emerged since the war that the Americans turned a blind eye to the export of nuclear parts by the top nuclear scientist in Pakistan, a major US ally in the "war on terror". The network of A Q Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, was in the business of selling nuclear technology to the highest bidder, including the arch-enemies of America - Libya and North Korea. Even South Korea has been conducting clandestine nuclear experiments, fearing its northern neighbour may have built six nuclear bombs. Far from shutting down the nuclear peril, the Bush administration has actually increased the global threat.

WHO ARE THE INSURGENTS AND ARE THEY LINKED TO AL-QA'IDA?

The presence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq was cited by President George Bush as one of the main reasons for going to war, even though there was never any proof of a link to Saddam Hussein. Iraq, back then, was devoid of terrorism. How times have changed - again, as a direct consequence of the war.

There is no single resistance movement. It is made up of different groups - many of which only operate in a single district. The US has sought to portray the insurgents as consisting of either foreign fighters or bloodthirsty Islamic fanatics, though US military intelligence admits that 95 per cent of fighters are Iraqi. The common element among the different groups is opposition to the US occupation. And they are bent on disrupting the elections to speed up the Americans' departure.

The military backbone of the resistance which developed with great speed after the fall of Saddam was made up of former members of the security forces and Baath party. But they could not have gathered support and sympathy from the population so swiftly if the US administration, devoid of a post-war plan, had not so rapidly discredited itself. Most Iraqi men have some military training. They are traditionally armed and after the war Iraq was awash with weapons.

The resistance rapidly took on an Islamic colouring, the very aspect the US feared. Since August 2003, there has been a wave of suicide bombing unprecedented in history. Here, the foreign volunteers were important and they appear to have provided the bulk of the bombers. Islamic fundamentalists outside Iraq provided large sums of money.

The insurgents have become more expert. There are greater signs of co-ordination. A few days after the US Marines started their assault on Fallujah in November, the resistance attacked Mosul and captured most of the city.

How sectarian is the resistance? The Salafi or militant fundamentalist Sunni wing of the insurgency has repeatedly targeted Shia with suicide bombs in Baghdad, Najaf and Kerbala, causing horrendous casualties. These attacks ensured that the uprising remains confined to the Sunni Arabs.

Since early 2004 the US has promoted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the man behind the uprising. This probably began as a propaganda ploy but Zarqawi revelled in the publicity and American denunciations meant local groups began to call themselves al-Qa'ida.

At any rate, the invasion - and the lack of planning - has created the very conditions the US cited as reason for going to war. Trouble was, they never existed then.

WHERE IS THE ANTI-WAR ALLIANCE NOW?

Still sulking on the sidelines although trying to mend fences with the Bush administration. The "gang of three" who opposed the invasion from within the Security Council, France, Germany and Russia, have never sent troops to Iraq as part of the multinational force. Mr Bush's visit to continental Europe next month will be aimed at improving relations with France and Germany. He will also hold a summit with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on neutral ground in the Slovakian capital. The problem for all three states is that they want to do business with Iraq - in particular France and Russia which were owed billions of dollars by Saddam's regime - but they have refused to endorse the occupation.

HOW HAS TONY BLAIR EMERGED?

Whenever Tony Blair crosses his fingers and starts to think that Iraq is fading as a domestic political issue, it returns to haunt him. With hindsight, the war itself was the easy bit. The aftermath has been much more messy. Two inquiries, by lords Hutton and Butler, kept the issue in the spotlight, even if they failed to find the smoking gun Mr Blair's critics hoped for.

Time has not proved the healer that Mr Blair hoped it would be: public opinion has hardened since the war. After the weapons of mass destruction failed to materialise, Mr Blair's personal trust ratings fell through the floor.

His allies hope desperately that Sunday's elections in Iraq will pass the credibility test. If they do, then Iraq may play less strongly during the general election expected on 5 May. If they fail the test, the issue will continue to dog Mr Blair.

Labour strategists admit that, at present, about 3 per cent of the electorate say they will not support the party because of Iraq - enough to have a significant impact on the election result. Labour hopes that, as the election approaches, critics will focus more on the economy and public spending than Iraq.

Between now and the election, Mr Blair will talk up issues they care about - such as climate change and poverty in Africa - and speak less about Iraq. He will also mount a subtle campaign to distance himself from President Bush, who will not visit Britain when he tours Europe next month.

Mr Blair will urge his critics to address the future rather than the past, and to support democracy in Iraq, offering the carrot of a "timeline" for the withdrawal of coalition forces.

HOW DOES THE EU COME OUT OF IT?

One year after a conflict that split Europe down the middle, a battered EU is finally starting to recover some of its unity. The war was a brutal reminder of the frailty of Europe's foreign policy, dividing member states and casting a giant cloud over relations with Washington.

France, Germany and Belgium led the opponents, while Britain, Spain (whose government subsequently changed) and a clutch of "new" European countries from the former Communist bloc including Poland, sided with the US.

The two sides then continued to fight the war by proxy. Last year Mr Blair helped block France and Germany's preferred candidate for the job of European Commission president, Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian premier. In return the French President, Jacques Chirac, stalled efforts to establish a Nato role in Iraq via a military training mission.

But there are signs that the EU is beginning to salvage some internal cohesion. The EU is now poised to offer the US a small olive branch by offering to train Iraqi police, administrators and judges (although that work will probably take place outside Iraq). And, significantly, Britain agrees with Germany and France - rather than the US - on two key issues: the need for diplomacy rather than force in dealings with Iran, and the desirability of lifting an EU arms embargo on China.

DO IRAQIS FEEL LIBERATED?

The key question, and the one answer showing the biggest change since our investigation in April 2003. Just after the war, polls showed that Iraqis were evenly divided about whether they felt liberated or occupied. We said back then that Iraqis have a strong sense of nationhood, and predicted that any sense of being subjected to American hegemony would be strongly resisted. By the time the US ended direct rule of Iraq through the Coalition Provisional Authority in the summer of 2004, only 2 per cent of Arab Iraqis supported the occupation. The overthrow of Saddam had brought none of the political and economic benefits they expected. Today, the only large group in Iraq which still overwhelmingly feels liberated is the Kurdish community, which makes up about 17 per cent of the population.

Despite the supposed handover of power to an Iraqi interim government last year, Iraqis see the US as the controller of the government. Many of them this week referred to the election as "a movie" staged for the benefit of the outside world. Significantly many of those who say they will vote also blame the US for their woes. This is the greatest mistake made by US analysts: the belief that because the Shia are increasingly hostile to the Sunni this means that they accept the occupation. The prestigious Brussels-based International Crisis Group sees the growth of hostility to the US as the most important development in Iraq since 2003. It says in a recent report: "Of all the many changes that have affected popular attitudes since the fall of the Baathist regime, perhaps the most notable has been the precipitous drop in the confidence in the US."

IS IYAD ALLAWI, THE INTERIM PRIME MINISTER, A US PUPPET?

Back in 2003, the question concerned Ahmed Chalabi, then the key US protégé in Iraq. Now it focuses on Mr Allawi, appointed interim Prime Minister by the US in June 2004. He depends on the 150,000-strong US Army in Iraq to stay in power. His political party, the Iraqi National Accord, was funded by the CIA. Mr Allawi was always in the past a man of the shadows. His defence of his former intelligence links is to say that he took money from any foreign agency which offered him funds. It is also true that all the Iraqi exiled leaders were supported by foreign intelligence agencies. With the exception of the Kurdish parties, few of them had a network within Iraq and all the returning exiles are viewed with suspicion as carpetbaggers by Iraqis who never left the country under Saddam Hussein. Mr Allawi has achieved a surprising degree of acceptance since he became Prime Minister. This is more for what he is not than what he is. He is a Shia and secular candidate in a country where the Shia political parties are predominantly religious. Even Ahmed Chalabi, former favoured friend of the Pentagon, is part of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largely Shia list put together under the auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Mr Allawi is also attractive to many Sunni because he is a former Baathist even if he is close to the Americans.

Mr Allawi and the other returning exiles are all dependent on the US. But the American position in Iraq has weakened steadily since the invasion. It therefore needs Mr Allawi and would find it difficult to replace him. This gives him some leeway in dealing with them. But in the past six months he has not been able to distance himself enough from the US to win over nationalist supporters of the resistance looking for a compromise.

IS THE UN RELEVANT ANY LONGER?

The Bush administration has pushed the UN back into a role of talking-shop, enabling the world's most powerful state to kick the most intractable problems into the long grass. That is why the US is content to let the UN take the lead in dealing with the atrocities in Darfur and even the Iranian nuclear threat. Washington can play for time while seeming to be doing something, while knowing that no decisions will ever emerge from the strategically divided major powers on the UN Security Council. Basically, the UN is only relevant when its member states want it to be.

The Bush administration, being ideologically opposed to the UN, is more likely to form "coalitions of the willing" outside the UN framework for conflict resolution. But even the Bush administration admits that the UN does have some relevance, in coping with humanitarian disasters such as the Asian tsunami, and in organising elections and their aftermath in failed states. As we predicted in April 2003, despite their prosecution of the war without UN authority, Mr Blair and Mr Bush felt obliged to seek UN blessing for the post-war phase.

WILL THE KURDS TRY FOR STATEHOOD?

Unlikely. The Kurds are the only Iraqis to have got from what they wanted from the overthrow of Saddam. It has been a narrow squeeze. Just before the invasion, the US was happy to go along with a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan as the price for the Turks allowing US troops to open a northern front against Saddam. In the event, the Turks turned the offer down and the US had to rely on the Kurds as their local allies.

During the war, the Kurds were able to recapture all the territory in Kirkuk and Mosul provinces from which they had been evicted over the past 40 years. The Kurds are now the dominant force in northern Iraq. They also hold Kirkuk and its oilfields. Emotionally, Kurds would like statehood but they already have the reality of independence without the dangers of declaring an independent state. For the first time they have the support of a great power: the US. With America so short of allies inside Iraq, it cannot abandon the only community which supports it.

HOW LONG WILL THE SOLDIERS STAY?

In April 2003, we wrote that neither Britain nor the US could sustain their troop levels, which at the time were 225,000 US soldiers and 45,000 UK troops. The British were saying then that they would keep troops in Iraq for a maximum of six months. Now, with 150,000 US and 10,000 British troops in Iraq, neither side is likely to pull out before the end of the current mandate, which runs until December. The official line from the White House and Downing Street is that it all depends on the speed with which Iraqi police and troops are trained. At the moment, there are less than half the number of Iraqi security forces that officials believe are required to deal with the insurgency.

Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, recently told senators: "I am really reluctant to try to put a timetable on that, because I think the goal is to get the mission accomplished, and that means that the Iraqis have to be capable of some things before we lessen our own responsibility." Members of Congress have privately been told by senior uniformed officers to expect at least 100,000 to remain in Iraq not only throughout this year but to the end of 2006. At the same time, a growing number on the right is calling for a rapid withdrawal. Some believe the setting of a timetable for leaving might focus efforts on training Iraqi forces. The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, recently told reporters "it was bleedingly obvious" that Britain and the US would leave Iraq if the Iraqi national assembly to be elected on Sunday asks them. A major, single loss of US troops - such as the attack in Beirut in 1983 in which 241 US Marines were killed - rather than the steady drip of casualties would almost certainly hasten a departure.

IS THERE A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS?

The crisis is of a different nature to that in April 2003, when the war had compounded the effects of sanctions, and is absorbing the attention of Iraqis more than the election. Long queues of cars and trucks snake around Baghdad as drivers wait for fuel. Often they sit in their cars for more than 24 hours. There is also a shortage of kerosene, essential for heating, bottled gas for cooking and electricity for all purposes. In recent weeks there has even been a shortage of water for the first time. Because transport is more expensive food prices go up. The rise in prices hits a population with very small earnings. Iraqis expected after the fall of Saddam that their standard of living would improve. Instead they have seen their lives in most cases get worse. It is disappointment which partly fuels the uprising. Young men are desperate for jobs. It is as easy for the resistance to recruit men as it is for the police or army. For a year after the invasion Iraqis were patient but during this past winter they saw the electricity supply falling again to three or four hours a day. While Iraq is caught up in a permanent economic and social crisis it is difficult to believe that the political crisis will ever end.

HOW MANY DIED IN THE WAR

In April 2003, 119 American soldiers had been killed and 30 British soldiers. Now the total has jumped to 1,420 American soldiers dead and 76 British servicemen. The Iraq Body Count website calculates that the total number of Iraqi civilians killed by military intervention could be as many as 17,721. There are no reliable figures for Iraqi military casualties but we do know that at least 6,370 Iraqi soldiers died during the war itself.

The fact that the allies have never bothered to count the dead is seen as an insult in Iraq.

WAS THE WAR LEGAL?

It still depends who you talk to. Critics of the war maintain that the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has undermined the legal case for war by demonstrating that Saddam was not a threat to international security. However, ministers insist that it was Saddam's breaches of United Nations resolutions which made the war legal under international law.

The one-page legal opinion released on the eve of the invasion used successive UN Security Council resolutions to justify war. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, said that authority to use force against Iraq derived "from the combined effect of resolutions 678, 687 and 1441" which were under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force to restore international peace and security. He said the authority for war stemmed from UN Security Council resolution 678, the resolution that first authorised force to expel Iraq from Kuwait in 1990.

Lord Goldsmith insisted that resolution 687, which set the terms of Iraq's ceasefire at the end of the Gulf War, merely "suspended but did not terminate the authority to use force". The Attorney General said resolution 1441, passed before Christmas, made clear Iraq was in material breach of its ceasefire and in effect "provived" the legal authority for war originally confirmed in 1990. The government has rebuffed attempts by The Independent, anti-war campaigners and MPs for publication of the Attorney General's full legal advice before the invasion amid suspicions it contained caveats not included in the summary released to MPs. MPs believe that Lord Goldsmith changed his advice in the run-up to war and demanded an explicit statement from Mr Blair that Iraq was in breach of its obligations under UN resolutions before confirming the legality of the invasion. But, while all this legal debate goes on, it seems the public has made up its mind: no WMD equals no legitimacy.

DID THE ALLIES STICK TO THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS?

No way. Already in April 2003 the allies had violated the conventions in their treatment of the civilians they were obliged to protect. But since then, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and in British custody has sickened the world in the blatant disregard for international humanitarian law. The taking of photographs of prisoners is only permitted in order to identify the captives. Contrast this with the soldiers who took the shocking pictures of a hooded man attached to electric cables standing on a box, the piles of naked bodies, and the simulated sex scenes.

DID BUSH'S CRONIES GET THE BIGGEST CONTRACTS?

In essence many of them did. In the aftermath of the war, US companies lined up to receive more than $18bn set aside for reconstruction. Many of the biggest winners were companies who had donated heavily to the Republicans.

In most cases, their bids for the work were non-competitive. Bechtel Group, for instance, won a $680m contract for emergency infrastructure repair. Bechtel had previously given $1.3m to US political candidates from 1999 to 2002 - about 60 per cent to Republicans. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Vice-President Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which donated $708,770 - 95 per cent to Republicans - received an open-ended contract for fighting oilwell fires. The no-limit contract was subsequently expanded to include the "operation of facilities and distribution of products." Congressman Henry Waxman has estimated the contract to provide meals, laundry and other support services to troops could be worth $7bn over two years.

In 2003 it was announced that countries that opposed the war such as France and Germany would be banned from bidding for contracts though this was later loosened. The Bush administration says 103,142 Iraqi workers are currently employed in more than 2,500 reconstruction projects.

HAS THE RUMSFELD DOCTRINE BEEN VINDICATED?

Iraq has been both dazzling confirmation and humbling repudiation of the "Rumsfeld Doctrine", of a smaller, nimbler military, where overwhelming firepower would make up for any decline in troop strength. The formula worked brilliantly for the invasion itself, a "blitzkrieg" that saw a relatively small US force complete the conquest of Iraq in less than a month, with the capture of Saddam's redoubt of Tikrit on 17 April 2003. But the 21-month occupation has exposed every limitation of the doctrine. Having spurned his senior commanders' warnings that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed to provide security, Mr Rumsfeld has tried to do the job with just 140,000. The US Army, and reserve units and the National Guard in particular, have been stretched close to breaking point. In a tacit admission that the Army is too small, the Pentagon is seeking to expand the 500,000 active duty force by 30,000 on a "provisional" basis until 2008. The Defence Secretary, meanwhile, is accelerating his intended reform of the military, by cutting back or scrapping sophisticated new weapons systems. This would free tens of billions of budget dollars to equip the military better for the unconventional conflicts of the future. The loser, as we wrote in April 2003, is Colin Powell, who challenged Mr Rumsfeld and who has now left the Bush administration.

WHAT WAS THE WAR REALLY ABOUT?

Astonishingly, two years on there is no clear answer. The Bush White House claimed the invasion was to get rid of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and destroy a regime that was linked to terrorism. When the WMD failed to materialise, the war was justified (on legally shaky grounds) as a mission to remove an odious and repressive regime, the first step in a democratic transformation of the Middle East.

In truth, Iraq was at the top of the administration's hit list long before 9/11. The neo-conservatives in charge of US security policy had been calling for Saddam's overthrow for five years or more. This they argued, would give the US a new strategic base in the Gulf to replace Saudi Arabia. It would place the region's second oil producer firmly within the US orbit. It would step up the pressure on Iran, meeting a longstanding desire of Israel. Finally, there is a family factor: did Bush the son invade to finish the job started by Bush the father? Somewhere in this mixture of fear, grand strategy and blinkered ideology lies the explanation for the war.

IS THIS THE FIRST STEP TO REORDERING THE MIDDLE EAST?

That was, and remains, Mr Bush's goal, as his extraordinary second inauguration address shows. Turn Iraq into a functioning democratic regime, the theory runs, and the Islamic extremists and insurgents "who hate our freedom" would be on the retreat across the Muslim world.

Seduced by a benign version of the domino theory, Washington imagined that other authoritarian regimes would realise there was no alternative to liberalisation and democratisation. Thus would be achieved an economic and political rebirth of the Middle East, including the most elusive prize of all, a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine.

But even if the Iraqi election on Sunday goes (relatively) smoothly, those ambitions now appear to be hopelessly overblown.

The initial goals of Mr Blair's Palestinian conference in March have been watered down under Israeli pressure. Mr Bush's once-trumpeted Greater Middle East Initiative, designed to foster free thinking, free markets and free media across the region, has been drastically scaled back after complaints from allies such as Egypt that the US was trying to impose its views.

WHAT ABOUT SADDAM?

Saddam Hussein is in custody awaiting trial in the US military base at Baghdad airport. But his appearances in court have not benefited the interim government as much as they had hoped. His capture has, surprisingly, highlighted difficulties, and his is the spectre overhanging the elections.

His strong, defiant demeanour before his accusers last year quickly replaced in the public psyche the earlier images of a bedraggled and beaten former Iraqi leader dragged from his hole in December 2003. His trial will be difficult to arrange if it is to appear in any way fair. Nor will it be easy to find evidence of Saddam directly ordering massacres. And controversy has already engulfed the trial. Salem Chalabi, initially in charge, was accused of murder and dismissed.

Saddam's prosecution will cause division. The Kurds want to execute the man who oppressed and slaughtered them. The Shia, too, want him convicted for the killings after their uprising in 1991 and the murder of their leaders. But the Sunni are more ambivalent, not because of loyalty to Saddam, but because they see a trial as a veiled attack on their community. Many Iraqis also feel that however bad conditions were under Saddam they were better than today. The destruction of Fallujah by the US Marines and the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib have made them less willing to condemn Saddam, a feat most would have found incredible two years ago.

IS NORTH KOREA NEXT ON THE AMERICAN HITLIST?

No, for the simple reason that the Americans are more concerned about stopping countries from obtaining a nuclear weapon rather than going after those that have one. Experts agree North Korea probably has half a dozen nuclear bombs, or enough to deter an American attack. So Iran - which is suspected of developing a nuclear bomb - is now "top of the list of potential troublespots", according to the American Vice-President, Dick Cheney.

It is also the reason Iraq was a target in the first place, rather than North Korea, which from a nuclear perspective was a far more dangerous threat. Iran must have realised it would be safer from attack the sooner it developed nuclear capability. In that sense, the invasion of Iraq has made the world much less safe.

The countries that the Americans want quaking in their boots have been branded "outposts of tyranny" by the new US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. The list is Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus, and Zimbabwe. She did not indicate an order of priority, and left off her list other states which happen to be US allies.

Taking strong-arm action against a geo-strategically important state like Iran will be tricky: Iranian officials say Tehran would respond vigorously to any military attack by the United States or Israel. "Iran is not Iraq, Iran is not North Korea," said an Iranian diplomat.

DOES GROWING SHIA POWER MEAN AN INCREASE IN IRANIAN INFLUENCE IN IRAQ?

This was always the fear of the US, and was one of the reasons why Washington allowed Saddam Hussein to crush the Shia uprising after the first Gulf War in 1991. But the Iranian and Iraqi Shias have always had different attitudes. The Shia clergy in Iraq would like an Islamic state but not a theocracy. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi Shia made up the bulk of the Iraqi army and fought their co-religionists.

Iran has great influence in southern Iraq. For years, it funded the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr brigade militia, now one of the main Shia parties. It has funded Shia organisations in Iraq.

"The Iranians are very clever: they give money to the pro-Iranian groups and also to the anti-Iranian groups," said a Shia leader.

Given that the US is continually threatening to attack Iran, it is not surprising that Tehran wants to make sure it can cause problems for Washington in Iraq, so there may be a big impact on the election.

Comments