15:05 GMT +324 March 2018
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    The Iraqi blunder: four years on

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov) - On March 20, 2003 American bombs fell on Baghdad, signaling the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or in less exalted terms, the Iraqi war.

    Now, four years later, this mission could be renamed Operation Iraqi Chaos. By different estimates, it has killed from 60,000 to 300,000 Iraqis, and plunged the country into what seems to be the fiercest civil war now under way in the Middle East.

    America has already paid through the nose for this historic blunder - 3,217 soldiers killed, another 24,000 badly wounded, and $500 billion to fund the hostilities. But the time of the final toll has not yet come.

    The world commemorated the gloomy anniversary with a weekend of antiwar marches and rallies involving thousands of people from New York to San Francisco, and from Madrid to Melbourne. The most popular posters were "Drop Bush, Not Bombs," and "Four Years Is Too Long."

    There is probably only one man who could sip champagne to celebrate the lucky events, if his faith allowed this by way of exception: Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

    He knows better than anyone else that the U.S. operation in Iraq has made only one contribution to the President George W. Bush-declared war on terror - it diverts energy and funds from the implementation of this global task. These resources could be used much more effectively somewhere in Afghanistan or South-East Asia. Today's Baghdad is not the frontline of the war against al-Qaeda. It is the favorite meeting-ground of its foot soldiers, and a symbol of their unity.

    In these four years, U.S. political circles have dramatically changed their attitude to the use of force in Iraq. At one time, the U.S. Congress blessed the invasion in opposition to the UN. A majority in both chambers, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, voted for the war in the belief that it would save America from another September 11. Members of Congress reflected the views of their electorate - in March 2003 two-thirds of the U.S. population gave unqualified support to the Iraqi coalition's military actions.

    Today, America has changed beyond recognition. A joint AP-Ipsos poll has shown that six out of ten Americans consider the Iraqi war a mistake and would like to end it as soon as possible.

    The respondents are prone to think that American society has changed its attitude to the war because it has proved to be different from what they expected. It was not caused by the declared casus belli; Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the war was conducted by methods that are not appropriate for a country that claims to be the world messiah of democracy. It is enough to recall the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or the bloodbath of November 19, 2006 in Haditha, a village to the north of Baghdad, where an American patrol murdered 24 Iraqi civilians, including a 76 year-old man and a three-year-old child.

    Finally, the battle for Iraq's liberation has degenerated into a conflict that even the Pentagon today recognizes as a civil war. There are grounds to think that America does not have enough soldiers to stop the mounting ethnic strife in Iraq. In the remaining year and a half, the Bush administration is unlikely to even pretend there is any progress in Iraq.

    Capitol Hill, which the war has allowed the Democrats to take control of, is trying to reflect the reality in a new bill. It is designed to link the funding of additional troops in Iraq with the withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq no later than September 1, 2008, if not earlier. The troops will leave Iraq because the Iraqi authorities are unable to honor their commitments.

    Most probably, the bill will be voted down in the Senate, which has an insignificant Democratic majority. Even if it passes both chambers, it will be vetoed by President Bush. His national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has told the legislators that their initiative could turn Iraq into a terrorist paradise, as if this has not happened already.

    The Iraqi saga has changed America's entire political landscape, with only one exception - the Bush administration continues to believe that it is possible to win a war on the other side of the globe.


    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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