THE first anniversary of the Iraq war was never going to be a particularly joyous occasion, either for the occupied people or their occupiers. In the event it has proved to be much worse than might have been imagined for both. This week, for the first time since the war ended, US Apache helicopters have been in action as “Operation Valiant Resolve” (who chooses these titles?) sets about subjugating the Sunni town of Fallujah where four American security contractors were brutally murdered recently. Meanwhile other US forces in Baghdad have been trying to contain the violent opposition of the militant supporters of a Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose newspaper was closed down last week by Paul Bremer, head of the US-led coalition, because of its radical contents. In each of these cases the Americans have presumably felt that if they failed to take military action they would look weak and the general situation would worsen. At the same time they must have realised that there is an even chance that the heavy hand they are applying will actually make matters worse and imperil the possibility of the planned hand-over of administrative government to an interim Iraqi body on July 1.

The American authorities in Iraq - civil and military - deserve understanding for the dilemma they face which is a direct result of the ignorant and insensitive policies pursued against Iraq since President Bush took office in January 2001. The question is how a growing cycle of violence and counter-violence can be contained and subdued. The answer may well be that the United States itself can no longer achieve this and that somehow the United Nations must be given the authority to move Iraq forward to stable statehood. What realistic alternative is there now?


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