It is one thing not to be cowed by terrorist attacks, quite another not to find a way out of what has become a rather large mess. The United States of America is stuck in Iraq three months after the dethroning of Mr Saddam Hussein, without the expected blessings of Iraq’s “saved” people, but with a growing list of American soldiers dead after action. Now there are more civilians dead and, even more shockingly, the United Nations special envoy, UN employees and their support staff are dead too, and the UN headquarters in Baghdad grievously damaged by a truck bomb. The much-touted US presence in Iraq has done nothing to improve security or law and order, and the Iraqi householder is exasperated with the continuing lack of basic facilities. On top of it all, many Iraqis, ordinary men and guerrilla fighters, terrorists and patriotic peace-lovers, are fiercely resentful of the foreign soldiers’ controlling presence in their land. This is hardly conducive to the rebuilding of Iraq, an essential stage in “Operation Iraqi Freedom” proclaimed by the American president, Mr George W. Bush, and his administration. The interim government, headed by Mr Paul Bremer, does not seem to have made friends and influenced people in a way that would make departure dignified, satisfactory and smooth for the “liberators”.
The costs of this war have been high in more ways than one. To be responsible for a war without international approval or the UN nod is to be responsible for its aftermath, and there is little to do but brazen it out when the aftermath seems slowly to be going out of control. The taliban are beginning to show definite signs of returning life by inflicting deaths almost two years after the US tried to bomb Afghanistan “back to the Stone Age”. The US is somewhat worse off in Iraq. The attack on the UN headquarters is illogical, the fury it is expressing is not directed specifically at the UN. But it is too much to expect discrimination of fanatical killers. The US may frantically seek al-Qaida connections, as it did in the case of the bombing of the Jordanian embassy, but what it finds is of minor importance. What is major is that these attacks, not obviously directed at Americans, increase rather than lighten the US’s load. The tension created by the American and British presence is affecting the soldiers on duty as much as the Iraqis, causing killings of civilians and journalists that would be unacceptable under any circumstance. The task of rebuilding Iraq, if the US claims to be sticking around for that and not just Iraqi oil, has to be approached with a little more humility and realism than the US has displayed so far.