Premature celebrations

The gory terrorist attack in Nasiriya shattered any lingering delusions: The real Iraq war began when nearly everyone thought it was over. It is not long since the US coalition celebrated an easy victory, claiming that the Iraqi people had welcomed them as heroes. It was these same people who said that Iraq would follow in the steps of postwar Germany and Japan. It needed no detailed knowledge of history to predict that these political convictions would crumble under the pressure of events. The Iraqis have neither forgotten the oppression of Saddam’s regime nor the humanitarian disaster caused by many years of international sanctions. Moreover, they feel resentful of the unjustified assault. In 1991, there was the invasion of Kuwait. In 2003, there was nothing but false pretexts. Even those who foresaw the insurgency were surprised by its intensity and effectiveness. The occupation has proved bloodier than conventional conflict. The US-led alliance is standing in a minefield. The daily attacks have created a climate of insecurity, undermining troop morale. It now seems that the Baath party had established a decentralized network of resistance ahead of the US attack. Successive blows to the occupying forces have enhanced the image of the insurgents and fed the ranks of resistance. If the US continues a tough-fisted policy, it may limit the insurgents’ room to maneuver but will turn itself into a classic occupation force. Disengagement is out of the question but things cannot stay as they are. The only solution seems to be shifting responsibilities to the Iraqis, as France has requested. But it is far from certain that this process would give rise to a pro-Western government. The Americans went there to stay, not to just kick Saddam out and leave. Control of Iraq gives them control of the flow of oil and of the Middle East.