Leading article: Wars and rhetoric about wars

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We share the fury and frustration of those who marched against the Iraq war in Washington this weekend. US voters brought about one of the greatest electoral upsets of recent years when they gave the Democrats a majority in both Houses of Congress last November. The deciding issue was, by common acknowledgement, disillusionment with the failing war in Iraq.

Instead of heeding the will of the voters, however, President Bush treated the verdict with contempt. Rejecting the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which called for the US military presence in Iraq to be scaled down, he opted for the precise opposite. His "surge" strategy will pump billions more dollars into the Iraq war, expose another 20,000 US troops to mortal danger and further sideline the domestic agenda. No wonder opponents of the war saw no alternative but to take to the streets.

If latest pronouncements out of Washington are anything to go by, though, the more aggressive pursuit of the Iraq war is not the half of it. The US may be bogged down in and around Baghdad, but five years after branding Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "axis of evil", Mr Bush seems intent on broadening his "war on terror". Just in the past week, Washington has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs and supplying Shia militants with technology and materials for bomb-making.

The administration has also authorised the use of force against individual Iranians whom the US regards as a threat. This would appear to open the way for more cases like that of the five men Tehran insists are bona fide diplomats, who were arrested by US forces earlier this month in Arbil. The tough US stance towards Iran has been echoed in Israel, where the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had Iran's President in his sights when he said yesterday that Israel would not allow the world to be indifferent to calls for the destruction of Israel.

It is not clear whether the heightened US and Israeli rhetoric against Iran is a warning of action to come or the bluster of a superpower trying to disguise the weakness that Iraq has exposed. The ambiguity, of course, suits the White House. Iran, at least, appears to be taking no chances. Its nuclear energy agency categorically denied a report that it had taken delivery of 3,000 centrifuges.

But however ill-advised a US military strike against Iran would be, the war talk from Washington is eerily reminiscent of the drumbeat that preceded the invasion of Iraq. Where this US administration is concerned, the world has learnt: no eventuality can be excluded just because it seems poorly argued, ill-advised or liable to make a bad situation infinitely worse.