It’s now generally agreed that the Iraq war is a disaster to date. So the debate in both the UK and Australia seems to be turning to whether a quick withdrawal would be a good move or a betrayal of the Iraqi people.

Suddenly 12-18 months has become the magic number, within which time the Iraqi army would be able to take over its own security, according to both the US ambassador to Iraq, and UK junior defence minister Des Browne.

It’s bollix of course. The Iraq army barely exists independent of the militias, clan groups, parties and factions who happen to have taken up its uniform.

As the 12-18 month figure was being announced, BBC Radio 4 was broadcasting its Today program from Basra, and interviewing British soldiers who said that disarming and frisking Iraqi soldiers was routine – even though it made the soldiers hate them, it was the only way not to get a shot in the back from uniformed insurgents. Sure, they’ll be ready.

Meanwhile the sturdier pundits urge continued occupation, from sane Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail to John Roskam in The Age. They’ve talked themselves into what is known as the “Nixon’s Rabbi” position, after Baruch Korff, the hapless White House divine who, due to a communications ballsup, was defending Tricky Dicky for hours after he’d actually resigned.

Fooled once by the WMD nonsense, Nixon’s new rabbis are still easily conned into believing that the US and UK retain a genuine commitment to the country.

The Iraq war is over, lost, and all that remains is an exit strategy. The 12-18 months is simply a PR interval and the idea of Iraqi army “handover” has been reverse engineered from that.

Clearly the Lancet study has broken the back of any substantial support for the war. Despite a further wave of kamikaze attacks on it from both reputable academics and the irrationalist Right, the study’s methodology has held good. It’s certainly turned around a few UK pundits: Bruce “Brute” Anderson, late of The Spectator, and now Norman Geras, author of the pro-intervention Euston Manifesto, and the eminence grise of the pro-war left. The stalwarts could probably meet in one of the phoneboxes some of them used to frequent as firebrand Trotskyists.

Whatever is really going to happen in Iraq will only do so after the allies leave, so they may as well go now. Best-case scenario is three states; worst case is a new Somalia, a stateless gap on the map, to be followed by either a fundamentalist theocracy or the return of the Baathists.

By 2011, a) the latter will probably be the preferred US option, and b) Christopher Hitchens will still be talking about uranium from Niger.

Peter Fray

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