Friday 11 April 2003

This pyrrhic victory on the Tigris

The outcome was never in doubt. But the aftermath looks ominous

When Henry Kissinger asked Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai whether he thought the French Revolution had been a success, he replied that it was "too early to tell". What was meant half-jokingly then is certainly true of Operation Iraqi Freedom today.

The gloating of those who backed the war has already started, led, as usual, by the Sun (the same Sun that predicted the first war without civilian casualties and now carries pictures of that wretched, limbless child). But it is based, quite knowingly, on a false premise. If there is one thing that united the pro- and anti-war parties, it was the belief that Iraq would be defeated. In the end, our expectations were confounded only to the extent that the stiffest opposition was encountered in the south, whereas Baghdad was entered with comparative ease.

In any case, the squabble over who got it right about the course of the war is largely irrelevant. The more apocalyptic warnings about the battle of Baghdad turned out to be false. But just because some doom-mongers were proved wrong, it does not logically follow that the warmongers have been proved right. Remember, we were not promised regime removal; we were promised regime change, with the assurance that Saddam Hussein would be succeeded by something altogether more benign. This was always going to be the difficult bit.

The jubilant reaction of some Iraqis to the regime's collapse has come as a relief after the very mixed response coalition troops received in the Shia-dominated south. Yet the anecdotal evidence reveals a more disconcerting picture. It is worth noting that the residents of Saddam City were singing the praises of Allah, not George Bush.

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