The tide is turning, but this does not justify war

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The Independent Online

Is the tide finally turning in Iraq? Two years after US commanders declared victory in the field and helped an Iraqi crowd fell the giant statue of Saddam Hussein, the first glimmerings of normality may be appearing on the horizon.

Is the tide finally turning in Iraq? Two years after US commanders declared victory in the field and helped an Iraqi crowd fell the giant statue of Saddam Hussein, the first glimmerings of normality may be appearing on the horizon.

As we report today, insurgent attacks have decreased sharply over the past month. Elections have been held, albeit boycotted by the Sunni. After long and hard bargaining, Iraq has a presidential council and a prime minister, and the posts have been shared out among the country's three main ethnic groups. The country's integrity has been preserved, at least for the time being.

The US top brass claims that it will be able to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by one third over the coming year because Iraqi units are increasingly capable of taking over. President Talabani has forecast that US troops will be gone from Iraq within two years.

Whether or not that prediction proves too optimistic, there can be no doubt that the overall situation in Iraq is much improved from the anarchy that prevailed until late last year. In nice time, it might be said - not necessarily cynically - for Tony Blair's campaign for re-election. He and other supporters of the war can, and have, claimed that, while aspects of the occupation may have been mismanaged and the opposition proved more determined than anticipated, the end result promises to be beneficial. Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical regime have been removed; Iraq has a chance of becoming a democracy.

To conclude from this that military action was justified and Britain's involvement has been vindicated, however, is a conclusion far too far. The war in Iraq was begun on intelligence that proved to be "dead wrong" - in the words of the latest US investigation - and in defiance of the United Nations. The legality of Britain's participation is in considerable doubt, and will remain so until the Government makes public the actual advice given by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

Respect for the rule of law is an absolute precondition for the civilised conduct of international life, as it is for sound government everywhere. It is a principle that Britain preaches abroad and it is not something that we, or anyone else, can flout with impunity.

The price for our war in Iraq has been the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis, more than 1,500 US servicemen and more than 80 Britons. The price has been the devastation of Iraq and the violation of the most basic human rights at Guantanamo and prisons in Iraq. The price has been new hotbeds of terrorism in Iraq and across the Arab world.

In recent weeks, a Pakistani diplomat was kidnapped for ransom; two suicide attacks were carried out against US bases; there were assaults by insurgents on Abu Ghraib prison. That all this makes for a good month in Iraq is a sad commentary on all that went before.

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