Leading article: The perils of planting democracy in a hostile land

Share

One thousand days. This is how long British troops have been in Iraq, and still we are counting. Such an accumulation of time seemed inconceivable in the days after the invasion, when the military operation looked likely to be completed in weeks. As we now know to our cost, the ease of removing Saddam Hussein offered no preparation for the multifarious resistance that was to come. Ousting a dictator is one thing; sowing and watering the seeds of democracy where none existed is an undertaking of quite a different order.

This latest landmark coincides with early voting in parliamentary elections - the final stage in US and British efforts to nurture the democratic institutions we had promised Iraq before the war. And while many Iraqis will vote, and surmount formidable obstacles to do so, violent resistance remains as entrenched as ever in the centre of the country. Ominously, in recent weeks, it has also started to spread across the south.

At this point, the question must be confronted: is the presence of foreign troops now the chief cause of the violence? Is it more of a hindrance than a help to Iraq's development in a peaceful and democratic direction? Has the time come, perhaps, for the British - if not also the Americans - to make their excuses and leave?

The increased frequency of attacks on British troops in the hitherto relatively peaceful south suggests that peace-keeping and nation-building will only become harder. While casualties are a fraction of the 2,000-plus losses of the United States, they are approaching 100, and there is little sign that the casualty rate is slowing.

Even in the most elementary practical matters, such as improving supplies of clean water and power, not to mention security for civilians, the achievements of the troops have been depressingly limited. Many regions are too dangerous for aid workers or reporters to operate in. Police recruits and pilgrims, as recent incidents have shown, are sitting targets for militants.

At home, the Government's decision to go to war has been a cause of disaffection among Britain's Muslims. The war may not have led directly to the bombings in London in July, but they were undoubtedly a factor.

For Britain to announce that it was leaving now, however, would convey certain messages - both in Iraq and here at home. It would tell Iraqis that, despite all protestations to the contrary, Britain was not in it for the long haul; it was quitting rather than accept the consequences of the (many) mistakes made during the occupation. It would tell the militants, and Iraq's potentially meddlesome neighbours, that there was everything to play for. A bloody free-for-all could follow.

And a summary withdrawal, while gratifying some opponents of the war, would leave Britain looking irresponsible and fickle. The damage to community relations and to trust in the Government was done by the invasion and the mismanaged occupation. It will not be undone by a withdrawal that precipitates a bloodbath. So long as casualties remain relatively low, there is little to be gained by bringing the troops home, and much opprobrium to be risked from leaving the US and others in the lurch. Dependability is a valuable quality in an ally; we should hesitate before placing it at risk.

It is possible that, if the security situation deteriorates further, not leaving now will come to be seen as a mistake and an ignominious retreat will follow. On balance, it is probably worth waiting in the hope that the elections usher in calmer times and serious reconstruction can begin. The only bright point in this whole sorry episode will be if we are able to plan an orderly departure and leave Iraq in a better state than we found it. Anything else will constitute a shaming defeat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor