Anne Penketh: Iraq: the common factor in two tales of unpopularity

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There is a single issue that unites George Bush and Tony Blair. It is Iraq. The two leaders speak with the same voice. They have an identical policy and exit strategy. Both repeat the mantra that US and British troops will stay in Iraq to see the job through and will be pulled out only when security conditions are right so the Iraqi army and police can take over.

That strategy was dealt a new blow yesterday when the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, acknowledged that the 1,091 people killed in Baghdad in the course of last month represented the tip of the iceberg. "We feel shock, dismay and anger over the daily reports of the discovery of unidentified corpses and those of others killed" around the capital, Mr Talabani said. "If we add that to the number of corpses not discovered, or to similar crimes in other provinces, then the total number ... reflects that we are confronting a situation no less dangerous than the results of terrorist acts."

The country is falling apart as the sectarian killings go on - and all that on the eve of the expected announcement of a national unity government, which forms a key component of the US and UK exit strategy, even though its writ is unlikely to extend beyond Baghdad's protected Green Zone.

The impact of Iraq on the public mood has risen in great waves that have crashed sometimes first in the UK and sometimes earlier in the United States. Parliamentary investigations have been held in both countries. But the great debate on faulty intelligence was felt here first, with the death of the government scientist David Kelly and the subsequent Hutton inquiry.

US lawmakers and the press only picked up the issue of how we went to war on a false prospectus much later, but they went for it with gusto. Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium from Niger is at the heart of an official inquiry into the leaking of a CIA agent's name to the media - a federal offence punishable by jail.

Allegations against occupying forces emerged in a similar parallel. In January 2004, The Independent on Sunday reported how a hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, died, allegedly after a brutal beating by British forces in Basra. Four months later came the revelation that American troops had humiliated and abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A court martial has been held in the US to punish those responsible.

In Britain, the Iraq conflict has led to the resignations of the chairman and director general of the BBC and a newspaper editor. In America, the New York Times's reporter on weapons of mass destruction left after the paper admitted it had been too gullible in reporting the case for war.

But few politicians have paid the price. Colin Powell, who dared express his reservations, stepped down and his counterpart Jack Straw - who did the same - has just been punished. Mr Blair has denied he was, in effect, "sacked by the White House".

The US and British cabinets have been reshuffled. But the war's main architects remain in place.

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