Monday, October 24, 2005


Special Report From Belfast Telegraph

When will peace return to Iraq? When will the terrifying cycle of bombings and suicide attacks abate? When will the people have food and electricity? When will they be able to walk the streets in safety? When will our sons and daughters return home? How will it all end? In this special report from Baghdad, Patrick Cockburn exposes the monumental series of blunders that plunged the nation into chaos - and explains why the conflict will be longer, bloodier and more profound in its consequences even than Vietnam.

Iraq is a country paralysed by fear. Thirty months after the US and British invasion the country is getting closer to civil war by the day. Ethnic cleansing of Shia by Sunni death squads has started in the south and west of Baghdad. Insurgents control large parts of the city at night. They lob mortar bombs at will into the heavily fortified American, British and Iraqi government headquarters in the Green Zone.

The American and British governments seem disconnected from the terrible reality of Iraq. Tony Blair says the time scale for withdrawal is "when the job is done." But stop any Iraqi in the streets of Baghdad and the great majority say the violence will get worse until the US and Britain start to pull out. They say the main catalyst for the Sunni Arab insurrection is the US occupation.

A deep crisis is turning into a potential catastrophe because President George Bush and Tony Blair pretend the situation in Iraq is improving. To prove to their own voters that progress is being made, they have imposed on Iraq a series of artificial milestones. These have been achieved but have done nothing to halt the ever deepening violence.

The latest milestone is the referendum on the new constitution - the rules of the game by which Iraq is to be governed - on which Iraqi will vote tomorrow. The document was rushed through with the US and British ambassadors sitting in on the negotiations. The International Crisis Group, a highly regarded think-tank, warns that because the country's 5 million Sunni Arabs see the constitution as legitimising the break up of the country, the referendum will ensure that "Iraq will slide towards full-scale civil war and dissolution".

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Marcel Heersema
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