Bush's rallying cry rings hollow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2005, 12:00am

US President George W. Bush has broken into his holidays to rally support for the Iraqi occupation and counter rising anti-war sentiment. But his latest arguments for keeping American troops there highlight the flaws in the decision to invade in the first place.

In a speech to US servicemen and their families on Wednesday, the president has again characterised Iraq as a major battlefront in the war against terrorism that began with the September 11 attacks nearly four years ago.

But he went further, claiming that terrorists from across the Arab world have converged on Iraq in a campaign to stop democracy from taking root in the Middle East. Withdrawing American troops would only embolden them and create a new base for attacks against the United States and other nations, he said.

Remarks like these, similar to those in an earlier speech to foreign war veterans in Utah, mark a significant step up in a campaign to link Iraq with the September 11 attacks. Critics see it as an attempt to shift justification for a conflict that has cost the lives of more than 1,800 US troops, with no end in sight. As a rationale for staying in Iraq it raises concerns. Mr Bush has previously admitted that Iraq under the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein had no role in the September 11 attacks.

It was the US-led invasion that turned Iraq into a haven for Islamic extremists. The attempts to muddy the picture do not end there. Mr Bush has offered a new reason for not pulling out: to keep faith with the men and women who have already died in the conflict. Given that the US invaded Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction that we now know did not exist, this will have a hollow ring to many Americans.

We cannot abandon hope that the liberation of Iraq from a brutal dictator may yet provide an opportunity to inspire the rest of the Arab world with an example of democracy and tolerance.

This week members of the Iraqi National Assembly have been trying to narrow differences over a draft constitution that critics fear could lead to a breakup of the country into an oil-rich Kurdish north and an oil-rich Shi'ite Muslim south, leaving the poor centre to minority Sunni Muslims and terrorists. Preventing that from happening is a more convincing argument for keeping US troops in Iraq.

But the hope is that the constitution will, in time, provide a sound platform for Iraqis to govern themselves in a more stable and peaceful environment - without the help of foreign troops. Improving the daily lives of Iraq's long-suffering people should be the priority.

Meanwhile, for the sake of harmony and building a properly democratic society, the efforts to put in place a system that is accepted as legitimate by all sectors must go on. That way, Washington's goal of making Iraq a model for others to follow may yet be realised.