We owe Iraq a timely election, not false excuses

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Mr Blair's judgement is sound on one point. Now, with new killings and kidnappings taking place in Iraq every day, is not the time for anyone - not the British, not the Americans, not the United Nations and certainly not the interim Iraqi government - to "wobble" over the timetable for elections. Having so abysmally failed in our promises to bring peace and security to Iraq, the very least we can do now is to stick to our pledge on elections.

Mr Blair's judgement is sound on one point. Now, with new killings and kidnappings taking place in Iraq every day, is not the time for anyone - not the British, not the Americans, not the United Nations and certainly not the interim Iraqi government - to "wobble" over the timetable for elections. Having so abysmally failed in our promises to bring peace and security to Iraq, the very least we can do now is to stick to our pledge on elections.

The moderate Shia leader, Ayatollah Sistani, has always been right about this. Without elections, no Iraqi government has a chance of being accepted as legitimate by a majority of Iraqis. However difficult the circumstances, the Iraqi authorities and foreign forces must do their utmost to ensure they go ahead. The pity is only that efforts were not made to hold elections much sooner after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iraqis should have been trusted with their own future earlier.

But there was another, far less consoling, conclusion to be drawn from Mr Blair's appearance with Iraq's interim prime minister at Downing Street yesterday. It is now clear that if the election timetable for Iraq slips, those who launched such a misguided war and then so comprehensively bungled the peace will be the last to accept the blame. Responsibility is already being shuffled off on to anonymous forces of "global terrorism". So, while acknowledging the divisiveness of the war, Mr Blair insisted that those disagreements should now be consigned to the past.

There was, he said, in a worrying echo of Mr Bush's "you are with us or you are with the terrorists" mantra, "only one side for sensible and decent people to be on". Those on the other side were opposed "not only to the new Iraq, but to every one of the values we hold dear". This conflict, Mr Blair said, was the "crucible in which the future of global terrorism will be decided". Don't call them a resistance, Mr Allawi chimed in, call them terrorists.

Somehow we have slid, Bush-style, from a mission to oust a dictator to fighting the global "war on terror". Pre-war Iraq was no paradise, but it was no hotbed of terrorism either. If it can now be described as such, this is what an illegal foreign intervention has made it.

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