Joan Smith: Why sexist George has got it wrong

I am tired of a knee-jerk, troops-out rhetoric which says the only solution is for foreign soldiers to withdraw
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Twenty-one marines from Ohio died last week, bringing the death toll in a single reserve battalion to 41 since it was deployed to Iraq in May. Galloway dismisses such people as "foreign invaders" who are being targeted by the Iraqi "resistance". That doesn't alter the fact that the young soldiers found with their throats cut outside the town of Haditha on Monday had families, who are grieving their loss. Nor do I believe that every American serving in Iraq is a sadistic torturer, itching to get his or her hands on defenceless prisoners. I should think most of them are as keen to leave the country as Galloway and Livingstone are to see them go.

They will be forced out in time, just as Israel was eventually driven out of Lebanon by the suicide-bombers of Hezbollah. But I am getting tired of a knee-jerk, troops-out rhetoric based on the proposition that because the war was a mistake in the first place, the only solution is for foreign soldiers to withdraw as soon as possible. Things have changed since February 2003, when at least a million people, myself included, marched against the war, unconvinced by claims about WMD.

What now exists in Iraq is a shattered society, struggling to emerge from 35 years of Arab fascism. Civil institutions are being painfully constructed in the face of attacks by "insurgents", actually merciless killers inspired by Zawahiri and bin Laden who make no distinction between combatants and civilians. (Incidentally, isn't it interesting that while Galloway condemns the attacks by Islamic extremists in London, his language in interviews broadcast by three Arab TV stations is as sexist and suffused with notions of sexual purity as that of any Muslim cleric? Describing Jerusalem and Baghdad as "two of your beautiful daughters", with whose "rape" some Arab leaders are collaborating, exposes precisely the kind of patriarchal assumptions that generations of feminists have fought against for years.)

By no accident, the position of women is absolutely central to the question of what should happen next in Iraq. That the current Iraqi government is arguing over a constitution that may impose Islamic law is bad enough, but withdrawing foreign troops would be to abandon the country to full-scale civil war and an Iranian-style Islamic republic in which women would have no rights at all.

So be it, some anti-war campaigners say, as if the fact that Iraqi women are being terrorised and murdered for refusing to be veiled is a regrettable by-product of the war. This is an abrogation of responsibility akin to the West's decision to hold its nose when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in the autumn of 1996. We all know where that led: to a safe haven for bin Laden, Zawahiri and their followers and a disgusting form of sexual apartheid in a country where women had previously enjoyed considerable freedom, as they did in pre-war Iraq.

That we should even contemplate making a similar mistake is breath-taking. Millions of Iraqis defied the terrorists to vote at the beginning of this year, and while British and American troops are in the country, democracy at least has a chance. The very worst outcome of this costly war would be for the deaths of thousands of soldiers and civilians to end in the replacement of one type of totalitarian regime by another.