Leading article: The collapse of Mr Blair's hubristic mission

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The Independent Online

In the wake of the terror attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, Tony Blair set out a bold ambition. "The kaleidoscope has been shaken," he announced, "the pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us." Well, the world has certainly been "reordered", but not in the fashion the Prime Minister must have hoped for.

On yesterday's leg of his Middle Eastern tour, the Prime Minister hailed the success of what has been achieved in Iraq since US and British forces swept into Baghdad three years ago. At a joint press conference with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, he declared: "The first time I arrived in this country there was no proper functioning democracy. Today there is."

This demonstrates a staggering disregard for the truth. Some 100 Iraqis are dying in sectarian violence every day. Yesterday 30 people were kidnapped from the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in central Baghdad. These are not the hallmarks of a "proper functioning democracy". What has been created in Iraq is a state of murderous anarchy.

Mr Blair pledged that "attempts to establish democracy will not be destroyed by terrorists or sectarian violence". But the truth is that they already have. According to the Prime Minister, the UK will stand "four-square" behind the Iraqi government. This is dishonest. British troops are even now preparing to pull out of Basra. We have been told that several thousand of our 7,000 soldiers are expected to be withdrawn next year. Are we seriously expected to believe this is because the situation is improving on the ground?

In any case, what exactly is there for Britain to stand "four-square" behind? Mr al-Maliki's government is unable to take on one of the largest militias in Iraq, the Mehdi Army, because its leader is propping up Mr al-Maliki's coalition. Mr Blair constantly lectures us about our duty to respect the democratically elected government of Iraq, while refusing to acknowledge the evidence that elements in that same "government" are complicit in the activities of sectarian death squads.

The situation is hardly better in the rest of the region. There is a threat of civil war in Gaza and Lebanon. Iran seems intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. The foreign policy of Mr Blair and his ally President Bush has started a fire in the Middle East that will continue to burn long after both leave office.

Yet the evidence of this trip is that Mr Blair still imagines the UK is operating from a position of strength. Yesterday he declared that "there is a very strong obligation for all countries in the region to be supportive of the Iraqi prime minister and his government". What makes Mr Blair imagine that Syria or Iran will feel any "obligation" to help the UK and the US escape from the catastrophe they have wrought in Iraq?

Across the Middle East and throughout the wider Muslim world, Mr Blair is an unpopular, discredited figure. The Egyptian prime minister, Hosni Mubarak, did not even hold a press conference with him on Saturday. Mr Blair is in Israel today, hoping to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But despite supporting Israel's punitive bombardment of Lebanon in the summer, there is little evidence to suggest Mr Blair has any real influence in that quarter.

Mr Blair's hubristic mission to reorder the world, piggy-backing on American military might, has heaped even more misery on the people of the Middle East, tarnished Britain's international reputation and increased the threat to all of us from Islamist terrorism. If Mr Blair were to open his eyes on this tour, he would be forced to admit that. But instead he chooses words which seek to deny the painful reality.