Leading article: One by one, the certainties about Iraq are revealed as illusions

It is high time to make a sober assessment of what, if anything, has been achieved, with a view to withdrawal

Share

This was the week when the already appalling news from Iraq took another sharp turn for the worse. It began with the pictures of British troops fleeing an angry crowd in Basra. It continued with Iraqi ministers admitting that the newly trained police had been infiltrated by militants. And it ended with the governor of Basra withdrawing all co-operation with the British.

Thus evaporated one of the more durable illusions of the whole Iraq mess: that however grievously the Americans might have mishandled Baghdad and their zone of occupation, the south was a happier story. The British were well trained in policing thanks to their experience in Northern Ireland; they knew to wear soft hats and treat the population politely. And anyway the largely Shia south was a different proposition from the fractious Sunni heartland.

Well, maybe it was - but it does not look so different any more. It looks more like one of those classic conflicts from the Empire, when long-forged relationships with local trusties suddenly shattered over a seemingly trivial incident - and regional, ethnic and religious loyalties came rushing back. The question in Iraq's south now is less whether trust can be restored than how real it ever was in the first place.

With the south now also in the grip of unrest, Britain's remaining supporters of the war have less and less to cling to. The situation is quickly surpassing even the most pessimistic of forecasts. When the Conservative leader Michael Howard calls - as he did yesterday - for a thorough reappraisal of the British presence in Iraq, it is clear that some of the stoutest of hearts are faltering. Even Geoff Hoon, who as defence secretary steadfastly kept his counsel, has now admitted that errors were committed, albeit in a self-serving and roundabout way.

As American casualties mount, and US television shows the gathering mayhem in and around Baghdad, the mood in the United States is also changing. This week the proportion of Americans opposing the war exceeded 50 per cent; in this nation of optimists, a bare 20 per cent of those polled thought that the US would win the war. After a summer in which opponents of the war have been emboldened by Cindy Sheehan's protest outside President Bush's ranch, record numbers are likely to attend today's rally in Washington.

We hope and expect that today's march in London will be similarly well attended. With current US and British policy towards Iraq so patently not working, this is a moment when the voices of protest not only need to be heard, but also have the potential to make a difference.

Politically, neither Mr Bush nor Mr Blair can summarily reverse tracks. Nor, however desirable, is there the faintest chance that Mr Blair would withdraw British troops without agreeing such a step with the Americans. The invasion of Iraq was an enterprise of joint foolhardiness. It is, however, high time to make a sober assessment of what, if anything, has been achieved and what, if anything, can realistically be attained in the future, with a view to setting a timetable for an orderly withdrawal.

There was one sliver of good news from Iraq yesterday. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the moderate Shia leader, has called for a yes vote in next month's constitutional referendum. Once, such an appeal would have been greeted as offering hope of progress towards representative government. But we have been this way before. Elections have done nothing to turn back the tide of violence. It is a measure of how much the mood has changed that the ayatollah's words now sound like so much whistling in the dark.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Injury Fee Earners

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist personal injury...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Executive / Business Development

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

Recruitment Genius: Tennant Liaison Officer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An experienced TLO is required to manage, deli...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A promised 'women's museum' opens as a Jack the Ripper exhibit tonight, and I won't take it lying down

Becky Warnock
A protester wears a golden mask and Romanian flag during a demonstration in Bucharest against Gabriel Resources Rosia Montana gold and silver project  

Corporate vampires have tried to suck $4 billion out of Romania, and with TTIP the UK could be next

Kevin Smith
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen