United effort the only hope for a brighter Iraq

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am

The US, its staunch ally Britain and a rag-tag coalition of supporters went to war against Iraq in the name of terrorism. Five years later, the world is far more unsafe and the much-voiced challenge of bringing peace and stability to Iraq and the Middle East is as distant.

Washington's actions without UN Security Council approval drove a wedge between long-established alliances. A chasm was opened between the Christian and Muslim worlds. Rival sects of Islam seized the opportunity to fan the flames of their own fight for influence. Iraqis, liberated from the excesses of president Saddam Hussein's brutality and harsh international sanctions, were plunged into a fresh orgy of killings, hunger and disease.

If ever there was a lesson that when tackling global problems the world's nations have to work together, this was it. Never again can such a travesty of international law be permitted.

Yet US President George W. Bush, in marking the anniversary, contended that ordering in troops had been necessary. He acknowledged that there had been a high cost of life, but said 'removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision' and that the continuing fight was one 'America can and must win'.

He made no mention of the weapons of mass destruction used as the excuse for war but never found. He did not apologise for the instability and insecurity the world has faced. Instead, there was a promise that the US would remain engaged as long as was necessary.

This is the view of Mr Bush's administration, but elections in less than eight months in the US may change that. If the Democratic Party ousts the Republicans from the White House, there will be a shift in thinking.

The war has, after all, killed more than 4,000 US and coalition soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians - the World Health Organisation puts the number at 151,000 to June 2006 alone but admits that due to uncertainty the figure could be over 220,000.

Major tasks remain. The sectarian violence is still not under control, despite successes after Mr Bush ordered in extra troops last year; the almost daily suicide bombings are ample evidence.

Then there is the humanitarian crisis: about 2 million Iraqis have fled to other countries and 2.4 million more have left their homes for safety elsewhere in Iraq. About 4 million Iraqis need food aid and one in four children is chronically malnourished. Just one child in three has access to safe drinking water.

A way has to be found for rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds to effectively share political power. Without this there can be no properly functioning government capable of meeting the needs of the Iraqi people.

The political solution is a matter that only Iraqis can resolve. But bridging the sectarian divide in the name of security so that displaced Iraqis can return and work towards developing the country is a matter of international diplomacy.

Serious efforts must be made by the US to get the support of Muslim nations to assist. This has to include Iran, a nation crucial to Iraq's peaceful evolution and which the US refuses to have relations with.

The US has until now driven the agenda in Iraq. Its presence has to be scaled back and the effort to rebuild the country internationalised. Only this way, with time and a concerted effort, can Iraq have a hope of the bright future that Hussein's removal promised.