Quicksands occur in the most unexpected of places. Nobody quite expected the Tigris-Euphrates doab to be dangerous and treacherous. The troops of the United States of America in Iraq have now discovered this at a very high price. There is no denying that the conquering US army is now bogged down in Iraq. The battles are over but the war has not been won. Blood on the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq is the horrible testimony of this. The spring of the violence against the US troops is the perception of them by the Iraqis as an occupying army. Patriotism has stirred the Iraqis and this feeling has cut across the traditional Shia-Sunni divide of Iraqi society. Even those who were not well-disposed to Mr Saddam Hussein now resist the US troops and offer themselves as suicide bombers. The attacks are now spreading beyond the capital city and collaborators of the US force are also becoming targets. The latter, it needs to be underlined, have always been in history a standard feature of all popular resistance. It is obvious that the situation in Iraq is not within the control of the British and the US troops. Yet nearly five months ago, Mr George W. Bush, the president of the US, had declared the war in Iraq to be over. The US and the British troops are deploying counter-insurgency measures which are claiming many innocent lives, but the insurgency is far from being suppressed. Moreover, recent history is replete with examples of the difficulties involved in defeating a guerrilla army whose members, in the memorable phrase of Mao Zedong, are like fish in water.
A quick retreat from Iraq does not appear as an option to Mr Bush who has announced that the troops will come back only when the job is done. The nature of the task has never been defined. The troops are desperate to go home and morale is down. Within the US, protests against the intervention in Iraq are mounting and public opinion is turning in favour of bringing the boys home alive and not in bags. Body bags are anathema to the Americans. There is some amount of consternation about the intentions of the US government in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the US moved in with avenging zeal and dislodged the taliban regime. But it failed to get Mr Osama bin Laden. Now there is news that the taliban soldiers are regrouping and that the US-sponsored government in Kabul rules only in Kabul. In Iraq, the situation is more serious and more immediate. A shadow hangs over Mr Bush and a question mark over the success of his global crusade against terrorism.