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Slipping further into chaos

ONCE AGAIN the taking of hostages has dominated the headlines. Three weeks ago it was schoolchildren in Beslan; this week the fate of a Briton and two Americans in Iraq has shown us the brutality that fanatics will employ to terrorise others. In the past, hostages were generally used as bargaining chips, often to secure the release of imprisoned members of the hostage-takers’ faction. This week, though, there appeared to be little effort at serious negotiation.

The murderer of Eugene Armstrong announced on video: “Cutting the heads off the criminal infidels is implementing the orders of our Lord.” Violent anti-Americanism combined with Islamic extremism has produced an enemy who will not be reasoned with.

It is no wonder that Tony Blair spoke at the weekend of a new Iraqi conflict. The capture of the three Westerners was yet another proof of how dangerous Iraq has become. This also came out in a speech by Senator John Kerry at New York University on Monday. His political motives for switching the spotlight on Iraq have been called into question, but not the facts that he placed before his audience. “In March, insurgents attacked our forces 700 times.

In August, they attacked 2700 times — a 400 per cent increase.” Also in August, 66 Americans were killed and more than 1100 were wounded, more than in any month since the invasion last year. Mr Kerry’s point was that the United States under George Bush had squandered all the good will it had after the 9/11 attacks, and that, in Iraq, “We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.”

Confused motives, imperfect alliances, heavy military casualties — it is possible to argue that none of these reflect badly on the United States. Wars of liberation can be messy affairs. In the Balkans and Afghanistan, the Western coalition was criticised for its use of high-altitude bombing, and for not being close enough to the ground in the restoration process.

All that matters in Iraq, it can be argued, is that a nation that was suffering under a brutal dictator is now free. What is missing from the present debate about Iraq’s future, however, is the authentic voice of the Iraqi people.

There was a striking omission, too, from Senator Kelly’s speech. He mentioned that poor living conditions persist, but there was not a single reference to Iraqi casualties, either at the hands of the American or the so-called insurgents.

Instead, he adopted President Bush’s rhetoric about power: “America must be strong. And America must be smart.” The West is being drawn into a power-struggle with Middle Eastern extremists, and the people on whose behalf we are supposedly acting are being caught in the cross-fire.

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