"TURN IRAQ over to the United Nations (UN)." That is now the cry of many who opposed the US war on Iraq last year, such as the Green Party. But the shrillest calls over the last two weeks for the UN to run Iraq have come from the very people who were more than happy to back the invasion.
The pro-war rabble's utter disarray should lead everyone who opposes them to reject a UN version of the Iraq occupation. US commentator Thomas Friedman spelt out last week why pro-war hawks such as himself see the UN as a means of saving the US from a devastating defeat.
There is no mistaking Friedman's pro-war, pro-market credentials. He not only backed the invasion of Iraq, but said "there is nothing illegitimate or immoral" about the US dominating Middle East oil supplies. He has denounced the anti-capitalist movement since its birth.
Last week he wrote in his New York Times column: "Mr Bush needs to invite to Camp David the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the heads of both NATO and the UN, and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. There, he needs to eat crow, apologise for his mistakes and make clear that he is turning a new page. Second, he needs to explain that we are losing in Iraq, and if we continue to lose, the US public will eventually demand that we quit Iraq, and it will then become Afghanistan on steroids, which will threaten everyone... He needs to explain that he is ready to listen to everyone's ideas about how to expand our force in Iraq, and have it work under a new UN mandate, so it will have the legitimacy it needs to crush any uprisings... And he needs to urge them all to join in."
For Friedman, a UN stamp of approval is necessary in Iraq in order to prevent the US suffering a Vietnam-style defeat.
Warmongers want to ensure that the US is able to invade other countries in the future. Whether the occupation was conducted under a UN fig leaf or not, the US military would still form the vast bulk of the repressive foreign forces in Iraq.
The soldiers who tortured and raped over the last year, either on the orders or with the complicity of their commanders, would remain. Many journalists are reporting other abuses by US forces and Pentagon "contractors", in Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. All three are formally under UN jurisdiction of the kind proposed for Iraq. As in those disaster zones, leaders of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council would have some say over a UN-approved occupation of Iraq.
The prime minister of one of those states, China, was in Britain this week. Blair's government carefully shepherded him away from human rights protesters. The same human rights groups who have documented abuses in occupied Iraq have over the last 12 months catalogued repression and torture by the Chinese state. It has seized on the so called war on terror to suppress Muslim minorities in the west of China. Vladmir Putin of Russia would also be given a say over which multinationals would get to carve up Iraq. The assassination at the weekend of the man he installed as a puppet president in Chechnya underlined how Russia is already bogged down in its own Iraq-style occupation.
It has led to the murder of tens of thousands of civilians, again in the name of the war on terror. Then there is France, whose president, Chirac, is determined to carve out influence for French and to some extent European multinationals in Iraq and elsewhere.
The UN bureaucracy itself is the plaything of the big powers. UN secretary general Kofi Annan is often touted as an honest broker. But he was effectively appointed by the US after it forced out his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The great claim to fame of UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi is that he has overseen the UN presence in Afghanistan. That desperately poor country remains in ruins.
There are no elections. Rival warlords control different regions. Women are still forcibly veiled and face systematic rape. A barely reported war continues in large parts of the country. Bush and the neo-conservatives around him want to keep UN involvement in Iraq to a minimum.
They do not want to give any ground to rivals such as China, Russia and the European Union. Major sections of the US establishment believe it is necessary to give an inch by turning to the UN in order to better be able to take a mile elsewhere in the world in the future.
It's not a game those of us who opposed the war should play. Our message is simple. The Iraqi people should run Iraq. They are right to resist foreign domination in whatever guise.
The more decisively the US state is defeated in Iraq, the less likely it will feel able to launch more wars.