Ever since Daniel Pipes - he of the failed American neo-cons - piped up last summer with his plan to install a "democratic-minded autocrat" (sic) in Iraq, I have been eyeing the Washington crystal ball for further signs of what the designers of this wretched war have in store for the Iraqis whom they "liberated" for "democracy" last year. And bingo, not long before Christmas, another of those chilling proposals for "New Iraq" popped up from the same right-wing cabal. Any predictions for Iraq this year may thus have to be based on the thoughts of Leslie Gelb, a former chairman of the United States Council on Foreign Relations, whose wretched plans for "liberated" Iraq call for something close to ethnic cleansing.
In no less an organ than The New York Times - the same paper which carried a plea last year that Americans should accept that US troops will commit "atrocities" in Iraq - appeared Mr Gelb's "Three State Solution", an astonishing combination of simplicity and ruthlessness. It goes like this. America should create three mini-states in Iraq - Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the centre and Shias in the south - the frontiers of these three entities drawn along ethnic, sectarian lines. The "general idea," says Mr Gelb, "is to strengthen the Kurds and Shias and weaken the Sunnis." Thus US forces can extricate themselves from the quagmire of the "Sunni triangle" while the "troublesome and domineering" Sunnis themselves - with no control over Iraq's northern or southern oil fields - will be in a more moderate frame of mind.
True, the chopping up of Iraq might be "a messy and dangerous enterprise" - tens of thousands of Iraqis, after all, would be thrown out of their homes and pushed across new frontiers - but Washington should, if necessary, impose partition by force. This is the essence of the Gelb plan.
Bosnia comes to mind. Or Kosovo. But if it gets us out of Iraq, who's going to complain when we - the famous "coalition of the willing" - push those recalcitrant, ungrateful Iraqis into the same kind of "divide and rule" colonial world for which the Americans always used to excoriate the British.
It's important not to regard all this as the meandering of Washington think-tanks. Pipes and Gelb and their friends helped to build the foundations of this war, and their ideas are intended to further weaken Iraq as a nation - and thus the Arab world as a whole - while maintaining American military power. Already, the sectarian nature of "New Iraq" has been established by Washington's proconsul in Baghad, Paul Bremer.
His "Governing Council" is made up of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in direct proportion to their share of the population. The Shias, who form 60 per cent of the country, expect to take effective power in the Iraqi national elections this year - this, after all, is the only reason why the Shia clergy have not urged their people to join the anti-American insurgency - and the Americans and British understand this all too well. Like so many of those Arab nations created by the French and British amid the wreckage of the Ottoman empire after the First World War, Iraq is to be governed along sectarian lines.
So the coming months are not difficult to comprehend. As the insurgency continues - and as President Bush's re-election drama grows nearer - the US administration will be ever more anxious to do two things: to insist that America will "stay the course" - and to get out as quickly as possible. There will be ever more policemen hired, ever more militias, ever more ex-members of Saddam's old secret service, to act as sandbags between Iraqi guerillas and the Americans. Already - with Iraqi cops taking the most casualties - this is coming about. The Iraqi world is now breaking up into rebels and collaborators, with a vast heap of innocent Iraqi bodies - of children playing beside roadside bombs, children cut down by American gunfire during house raids or protests, busloads of passengers caught in guerilla ambushes, diners blown apart in restaurants - turning up each morning at the Baghdad morgue.
Mr Bush, of course, will be looking forward to the Show Trial of the Year to help his election prospects. What, after all, could be more calculated to justify the whole miserable occupation of Iraq than the concrete evidence of Saddam's atrocities? Already, however, this highlight is beginning to look distinctly worrying for the Bush administration, because any fair trial of the old dictator must take into account the massive evidence, much of it still secret in Washington, of the United States' involvement in creating - and supporting - Saddam's regime for the cruellest years of his rule. The shark-like lawyers already vying to defend Saddam are well aware that it was Washington which enabled Saddam to obtain the chemicals for his revolting use of gas against both Kurds and Iranian soldiers.
Gwynne Dyer, the courageous journalist who did more than anyone to publicise Saddam's use of gas against the Kurds - at a time when the CIA was putting out the lie that the Halabja dead were killed by Iranian gas bombs - believes Saddam will never get a public trial because if he did, "all this would come out in gory detail." So maybe we won't see Saddam in the dock this year after all.
As for that other, cancerous war - between the Israelis and the Palestinians - we can be sure than America's cowardly bias towards Israel at the expense of occupied Palestinians will only be exacerbated by November's US presidential election. Between Arafat's corrupt rule and the suicide executioners of Hamas, and the expansionist and brutal Ariel Sharon, there will be no peace. Already - how often that word "already" now crops up in any Middle East analysis - Washington has given its blessing to the shocking "new" message delivered by Sharon last month.
This was the speech in which the Israeli Prime Minister appeared to support President Bush's "road-map" - which calls, among other things, for an end to Jewish settlement building - by stating that he was faithful to the agreement "based on President Bush's speech of June 2002".
Countless newspaper editorials went along with this piece of chicanery - without checking the date. For Bush outlined his "road-map" in a speech in 2003, not 2002. The 2002 presidential speech to which Sharon was referring stated only that Palestinians must forgo terrorism "before the peace process can begin". Which suits Sharon fine. Hence this week's revelation that during his three-year premiership, the population of illegal Jewish settlements - built for Jews and Jews only on occupied Arab land - has increased by 16 per cent.
So there you have it. More Israeli settlement building on Arab land and, I've no doubt, more Palestinian suicide bombings. More desperate attempts by the Americans to escape from Iraq and more talk of turning "New Iraq" into ethnic statelets. More Arab humiliation. More anger. More "war on terror". Flak jackets on for 2004.Reuse content