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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own