Sunday, June 04, 2006

Blair has been blinded by an imperialist illusion

Britain has been asked to leave Iraq by the leader it helped to install. Only arrogance or myopia can explain its refusal

What is British policy in Iraq? This week, as four more Britons die, it is more obscure than ever. Iraq is becoming a 21st-century Dardanelles, a lethal project sustained only because exit is too painful for politicians to contemplate.

Tony Blair has long stated that British troops are in that country to establish democratic institutions and guarantee security and prosperity. Since security and prosperity are as distant as ever, democracy is vitiated. Rising violence has rendered the policy incoherent. Blair and his colleagues must rely for public support on an increasingly false narrative of their purpose, as false as the reasons for the original invasion. They are prisoners of denial.

Civilian deaths in Iraq are running at 1,000 a month. Kidnappings take place daily, and ethnic cleansing is rife. Some 10,000 professionals have fled the country. The police are nowhere trusted. This is beyond any tolerable definition of security. Chaos was previously described by Downing Street as "isolated" and "not to detract" from the success of the occupation. Progress was allegedly being made away from the cameras. This is denied by all available statistics of power, water and petrol supplies. The defence secretary, Des Browne, was reduced last week to claiming that "things are better in the country areas" - long the last cry from the bunker of defeat.

British briefings on Iraq are a remorseless diminuendo. First the troops would leave once elections were held. Then they would stay until violence abated. Blair recently said, "The violence is why the troops are there." This explanation, as he must know from the history of Northern Ireland, hands the initiative to the enemy, allowing the terrorists to dictate the course of the occupation. In Basra, the militias can now imprison British troops in their barracks for as long as they choose, or as long as it suits their sponsors in Tehran

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