I want one person to dare to write to this newspaper and say with a straight face and a clear conscience that the Iraqi people would be better off now if we had left Saddam Hussein in power. Just one.
I sense a pen somewhere hitting paper. Pause a moment. Forget that fewer than 5 per cent of Iraqis have told pollsters - in the tens of scientific surveys so far - that they want Saddam back, if you must. Think about this. Barely a decade ago, the marshes of southern Iraq were home to 400,000 hunters, fishermen and boaters, living as part of a delicate ecosystem so lush that it was long considered to be the location of the Garden of Eden. Their homes were built on floating islands made from reeds. They had inhabited this peaceful, self-sufficient world for five millennia.
But then Saddam seized control of their country. He damned the Marsh Arabs as "lawless gypsies", and set about "civilising" them. Desperate to preserve their way of life, they made a mistake. They trusted George Bush senior in 1991 when he said the United States would back this persecuted minority if they rose up to overthrow Saddam. They did; and Poppa Bush stood by while Saddam drained and poisoned their swamps, butchered their leaders, burned scores of their villages, and drove the survivors into desert slums. He had much of their water diverted for his personal enjoyment, to create artificial lakes around his palaces. Emma Nicholson, the Liberal Democrat peer who has been one of the few public figures to champion the unfashionable Marsh Arabs, accurately describes Saddam's behaviour as genocidal.
This time last year, I visited a Marsh Arab family crammed into a tiny straw hut in the stinking heat in the Iraqi desert. It was not their poverty or their grief - overwhelming though they were - that changed my mind and made me resolve to support the military overthrow of this Stalinist tyranny. It was the fact that in this - the tiny patch of sand and straw that remained to them - they were forced to hang a vast, menacing portrait of the man who had done all this.
If Blair and Bush had listened to the opponents of the war, they would still be festering in that shack. Instead, the marshes are being flooded with water once again. After the liberation (not a word Marsh Arabs scoff at), they began to hack away at the dams that destroyed their lives, and sympathetic officials have opened the massive al-Karkha dam to help them. Tony Blair always said that "the greatest beneficiaries of the war will be the Iraqi people." No, this is not the primary reason why we went to war, but the liberation of the Marsh Arabs was an entirely predictable result of military action - and many of you marched to stop it.
The marshes will not be redeemed overnight. Ecosystems cannot be recreated easily - if at all - but Emma Nicholson's research indicates that a third of the marshlands could still be revived. You can support her campaign - and alleviate your anti-war conscience - at www.amarappeal.com. Even very sceptical journalists who have interviewed the Marsh Arabs admit that they welcomed the war.
Do you imagine that the people launching savage attacks on aid agencies in Baghdad care about the Marsh Arabs? Do you delude yourself that they care about the Iraqi people at all? Thugs have blown up the United Nations and Red Cross headquarters. What more will it take for good liberal people who opposed the war to realise that these are not democrats who want a decent Iraq? What kind of Iraq do you suppose these bombers want to build?
You might have doubts about America being a friend of Iraqi democracy - given their one-time backing for Saddam and a myriad of tyrants, all sane people should - but you can be absolutely certain that the bombers - attackers of the Red Cross - are its resolute enemy. America helped the Kurds to build democracy in Northern Iraq; neither jihadists nor Baathists have ever built democracy anywhere. America offers some hope; the bombers, none. Any possibility of a better Iraq is being shaken with every blast. Of course, we should not play their game by exaggerating the bombers' successes. 90 per cent of the attacks are happening in just 5 per cent of the country, so most Iraqis - and most coalition troops - are unaffected by these attackers.
The real danger confronting us in Iraq is not from freelance bombers. They can murder aid workers, but they cannot defeat us. The risk is, instead, that opinion back home will cave in to the tiny minority - mostly, it seems, non-Iraqis - who are attacking American troops. Brits and Americans are beginning to assume - in defiance of all the evidence from piles of opinion polls, conducted by companies who successfully predict election results across the world - that the coalition is not wanted by the Iraqi people.
The real picture, away from the frantic TV cameras, is that Iraq is getting steadily better by the day. Iraqi teachers today are earning between 12 and 15 times their Saddam-era salaries, and almost every primary and secondary school is now open. Doctors' salaries have octupled, and 22 million vaccination doses have been given to Iraqi children. The Kurds have never been happier or safer (they have, for over a decade now, been living in a thriving democracy on the land clawed back from Saddam in the first Gulf War, but they wanted the threat of Saddam removed forever). All of Iraq's 240 hospitals and 400 courts are open and in business; 40,000 police are on duty.
Yet Iraq has become a magnet for international jihadists who venture across the world, from Afghanistan to Chechnya to Palestine. The notion of an Arab country moving towards the depravity of democracy (as opposed to rule by the Word of God) horrifies them. They care nothing for hospitals or schools. I have interviewed jihadists in both London and the Occupied Territories, and they believe - like old-style Marxist revolutionaries - that it is a good thing if material conditions get far, far worse under the corrupt current system, because this will precipitate a revolution. With these people prepared to make conditions far worse for the Iraqi people, a massive amount of disruption can be achieved with minimal man-power - a few thousand jihadists in a country of 23 million.
These attacks are calculated to undermine our will to carry out a proper transition to Iraqi self-rule, along the path that has already been travelled by the Kurds in the North. A hasty withdrawal would give Islamic theocrats or recidivist Baathists a far better chance of seizing power than free elections. All decent people - including those who opposed the war - must now work to establish a consensus in Britain and the US behind the path that Iraqis, in every single poll of their opinion, are begging us to take: stay for a few years to ensure a transition to democracy, resist the fascistic bombers attacking those who have come to help, and gradually accord more and more power to the Governing Council in advance of elections.
A bomb will always get bigger headlines than a slowly refilling marsh or a burgeoning school, but we must keep focusing on the big picture. Nobody wants the occupation to continue indefinitely. Iraqi democracy is getting closer every day. We must keep siding with the Iraqi people, not the bombers who want to drive away their doctors and peacekeepers.Reuse content