WE'VE LOST THE PEACE AND PUT WORLD AT RISK
Daily Mirror Editorial, UK - 10 April 2004
ONE year ago the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled from its pedestal in Baghdad.It was a hugely symbolic act, marking the end of the brief war to free the people of Iraq and the fall of the despot who had ruled them with bloody cruelty for almost three decades.
The overwhelming strength of US and British troops had scythed through the resistance of Saddam's forces. But winning the war was the easy part.Everyone except the inhabitants of the White House knew that winning the peace would be harder. But few imagined it would be this hard, this violent, with this terrible a toll. A year on, the situation in Iraq is chaotic, with open warfare raging in key cities.
The Americans are seen as hated invaders. Other coalition forces, including the British, are labelled the same.
The toll has been enormous. More than 600 Americans have died and there have been 58 British deaths. The number of Iraqis killed could be as high as 17,000.There are no figures for the numbers wounded, though it includes 3,466 Americans. Suicides among troops returning from the war are shockingly high.And all the time the body count is getting higher - and the butchery escalating.
Yesterday saw a terrible new tactic. Foreigners working in Iraq were kidnapped and threatened with execution unless their governments withdraw their forces.The prisoners were shown blindfolded on TV, reminding us of another unpopular war fought by the Americans.A year ago, those like the Mirror who objected to invading Iraq warned that it could become another Vietnam. In many ways, it is already.
American involvement in Vietnam was driven by the corrupt White House regime of Richard Nixon. Now one of that disgraced president's key aides, John Dean, proclaims that the administration of George W Bush is even more corrupt.
Criticisms of the current president and his henchmen have gone way beyond party politics.All the worst fears about letting this gung-ho bunch run the world's only superpower have come true with a vengeance.
At last the American people are beginning to realise the truth about Bush.The Pentagon refuses to allow pictures of the coffins coming home to be shown. But American news bulletins are presenting a daily tale of horror and slaughter. Just as they did during the Vietnam War.
And the agony of distraught families and the wounded is starting to seep through America. Just as it did during Vietnam. In Iraq, the problem is not just a few rebels, a small number of thugs and terrorists, as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld so smugly claims.The worst nightmare is coming true.
After the fall of Saddam it seemed as if there might be civil war as the old hatreds between the Sunni and Shi'ite communities were unleashed.Instead the impossible has happened. They have united against a common enemy - the American invaders.There are tens of thousands of Iraqis now determined to fight for their country.They include many of the soldiers from Saddam's armies, disbanded by Mr Rumsfeld against the wishes of British commanders. There are also al-Qaeda-supporting fighters who have come to Iraq for the first time.
But it isn't only in Iraq that the effects are being felt.We saw in Madrid what can happen when the fanatics strike in a great city. Britain's most senior police officer says it is inevitable that we will one day be a target.
That is where the war on terrorism must be fought, not in Iraq.
The British people are worried and understandably so. But President Bush doesn't appear to be.He keeps on spouting warmongering nonsense while his soldiers keep on dying.
Next week Tony Blair will meet him in the White House. That will provide a crucial opportunity to influence what is happening. Just as the Prime Minister was able to temporarily delay the start of the war.
We have learnt from eye-witness accounts that the White House wanted to invade Iraq days after 9/11 even though Saddam had nothing to do with the attack on the Twin Towers.
It was Bush's obsession, and the make-believe of weapons of mass destruction had to be invented to justify it.
He will not pay the same price as many of his troops, but he could lose this year's presidential election.
That must not be the main consideration when Mr Blair meets him, though. There are far more vital consequences.
What is happening in Iraq threatens the stability of the world, already on a knife-edge with the constant fear of terrorist attack.
The invasion of Iraq was a mistake and the cavalier, mindless way the Americans have behaved since has been an even greater folly. But there is no point in saying: "We told you so."What matters is how this bloodshed and terror can be stopped. How we can get our troops out and let the Iraqis govern themselves as smoothly and peacefully as possible. It took 20 years for the US to extricate itself from Vietnam because it refused to accept that it could not win. How long will it take them to accept that they cannot win in Iraq?
Tony Blair has to think not only of the diplomatic and international situations but of our troops serving in this cauldron of violence.
They have acted with courage, tact, patience and skill. Yet that will not be enough if things continue to deteriorate at this rate.The fall of Saddam should have started a process of reconstruction. Instead it has led to a descent into anarchy and bloody violence.
This is not a happy anniversary. Even for the people of Iraq.