Author:Lancaster, Pat

Two days before Iraqis went to the polls, the West was marking a thousand days of war in Iraq. On 20 March 2003 The United States, with British help, launched its war as the deadline for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave the country expired. 1,000 days later pollsters were assessing the cost of the operation so far to the US at $204.4 billion and the number of allied troops killed at 2,339.

For those who like figures, the international press also recorded that $53,470m is the World Bank's estimate of the current cost of Iraqi reconstruction; 183,000 US and British troops are still in action in Iraq; there have been 100,000 estimated Iraqi deaths and, one figure you probably already knew--0 number of weapons of mass destruction have so far been found.

Kidnappings, murder and mayhem have become commonplace in Iraqi towns and cities and, while there is no question that the Iraqis had a miserable time under the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, equally clearly a high proportion must feel they are currently living in hell.

Surprising then to learn that the US and Britain are planning a phased withdrawal of their forces from Iraq as soon as the permanent government is installed, especially given President Bush's assurance than he has no intention of leaving a job half done and would leave US troops in Iraq until the mission there was complete.

The move has caused alarm in the outgoing Iraqi administration, foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari warned that a hasty exit risked plunging the country into a new bout of violence. "Those who advocate an early withdrawal do not know what is at stake. The huge investment in blood and money sacrificed by the US could be squandered.

"There would be regional intervention by neighbouring countries and others. The fate of this country and the whole region could be put in jeopardy," he noted.

Mr Zebari is not alone, most of Iraq's leaders fear the US and Britain will use the installation of the new government as an excuse to pull out their troops. It is no...

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