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Every day it is spiraling down in Iraq with American


IT IS strenuously denied, but there is little doubt that what we are now seeing in Iraq is the beginning of the end.

With the US election only a year away the White House must find a way out of the Iraq nightmare. That is why George Bush’s man in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, returned to Iraq last week after emergency talks in Washington carrying a brand new strategy in his briefcase

After insisting for months that Iraq’s leaders must first write a constitution and then hold elections before power is handed over, America now proposes elections, which could be as early as the first half of next year, and then the formation of a government - before a constitution is written.

The Bush administration insists that its drastic rethink has been prompted by growing pressure from the Iraqis themselves for self-rule. But there is no doubt that the escalating attacks that have killed 400 Americans, as well as 52 Britons, 16 Italians and one soldier each from Denmark, Spain, Ukraine and Poland, are eating away at domestic support for the occupation.

There is also growing impatience in Washington with the Iraqi Provisional Council, which is supposed to be overseeing the transition under Bremer’s tutelage.

The UN Security Council has given the US-appointed council a deadline of December 15 to come up with a timetable for elections and drawing up a constitution. But the council shows no sign of urgency and is riven by factions.

"We are not pulling out until the job is done. Period," Bush said as he prepared for his trip to London.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted: "We will stay there as long as necessary."

Yet history indicates a different outcome. Ever since the Vietnam War the spectre of body bags arriving back in the US has haunted successive presidents. When a Hezbullah suicide truck crashed into a marine base in Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 marines, the US lost the will to win, and a year later pulled out its troops. It did so again after the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia in 1993 when the US lost two helicopters and 18 soldiers while hunting for a warlord.

But this time the Americans cannot simply cut and run. They cannot extract themselves until they have at least established a viable security apparatus. In addition to their pledges to the Iraqi people there are imperative geopolitical reasons. Iraq is too strategically important to be left to its own devices. What happens in Iraq is vital for Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Iran. And Iraq has the world’s second largest reserves of oil.

Yet the new US fast track exit strategy faces formidable obstacles. Some governments that are already critical of the US occupation think the new timetable is still too slow.

French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin is demanding even quicker progress, saying that a deadline next summer for elections is "far too late" and demanding the formation of a provisional government by the end of the year.

"Every day it is spiralling in Iraq with American, British, Polish, Spanish and Italian deaths. How many deaths does it take to understand that it is essential to change the approach," he asks.

In the hope of achieving a smooth transition the Americans are trying to persuade more countries to send troops to take over gradually from the 130,000 US troops still in Iraq. But they are nowhere near succeeding

Japan, which was on the point of sending 1,000 troops, is the latest to get cold feet. After last week’s attack on the Italians, it has said it will send a fact-finding mission to check on security.

In another setback South Korea, has scaled back its contribution from 5,000 to 3,000, and is refusing to set a date for their deployment to Iraq. It also ordered its 464 soldiers already in southern Iraq to suspend their operations outside coalition bases.

Three countries that once were poised to send significant numbers have already changed their minds. Turkey, which at one point offered 10,000, and which would have been the first Muslim country to send substantial numbers of troops, has now refused. India and Pakistan, potential major contributors, have also declined.

The other troop contributions by the 34-nation coalition, apart from those of Britain and Poland, are militarily insignificant. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, the only Muslim countries taking part, provide just 175 soldiers between them.

None of the governments that have significant numbers of troops in Iraq is threatening to pull out. Immediately after last Wednesday’s attack on the Italian headquarters at Nasiriyah, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged that Italy would not be budged from its mission, and sent another 50 carabinieri to replace their fallen comrades.

Britain is sending another 350 troops. The 1st Battalion The Royal Scots, based at Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh, is being sent to Az Zubaryh, to join 20 Armoured Brigade south of Basra for six months on a peace support operation known as Operation Telic.

However, the Nasiriyah attack on the Italians has raised fears that Iraqi resistance groups are gradually extending their area of operations to include the country’s mainly Shiite Muslim southern regions, which have generally been well-disposed towards the US-led coalition. The insurgency, which originated in the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, has also spread in recent weeks to the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest.

And even before the ink on the new US plan for Iraq is dry there are hints of trouble from within the Governing Council itself. Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of the 24-seat body appointed by Bremer four months ago, said that the council would study Washington’s proposals but would not necessarily agree with the details. "For our part, we have our own ideas," he said.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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