by Seumas Milne
It would have been hard to predict in advance that the US and British occupation of Iraq could go so spectacularly wrong so quickly. The words of the historian Tacitus about the Roman invasion of Scotland in the first century AD might just as well have been written about our latter-day Rome's latest imperial adventure: "They create a wasteland and they call it peace."
More than two months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq is sinking deeper into chaos and insecurity, as US forces lash out at the Iraqi resistance, which is now killing an average of one American soldier a day. Another was shot dead in Baghdad yesterday, while US troops killed more protesters - as they have repeatedly done since the massacres of demonstrators in Mosul and Falluja in April. The British minister in charge of reconstruction in occupied Iraq, Baroness Amos, had to admit yesterday that she is unable to visit the country because of the risk of guerilla attack, while the British commander, Major General Freddie Viggers, conceded that British troops may now be in Iraq for up to four years because of the growing insurgency.
In Britain, the unravelling of what US deputy secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, called the "bureaucratic" pretext for war - the supposed threat from Iraqi chemical and biological weapons - has created the most serious political crisis for Tony Blair's government in six years and removed the last vestige of possible legality from the aggression. With no sign of any such weapons on the ground in Iraq, intelligence leaks and the withering accounts of former cabinet ministers Clare Short and Robin Cook have stripped bare the ultimate New Labour spin operation. Polls show most British people are now convinced the government deliberately exaggerated the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction to bounce public and parliament into war. Not surprisingly, attitudes to the conflict itself are also beginning to turn.
In Iraq, the mounting social and human cost of the invasion and occupation has become ever clearer. The country's first Burger King may have opened at Baghdad airport and the Queen's birthday may once again be celebrated on the banks of the Tigris, but the impact of war and regime collapse on essential services and infrastructure, on top of the havoc wreaked by the first Gulf war and 13 years of grinding sanctions, has been devastating.