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Gary Younge
In a warped reality

On April 18 2003, tens of thousands of Sunni and Shia protesters took to the streets of Baghdad to call for the Americans to leave Iraq. "You are the masters today," Ahmed al-Kubeisy, the prayer leader, told the Americans as he addressed the men emerging from Friday prayers. "But I warn you against thinking of staying. Get out before we kick you out."

Two years later, the US is still there. The anti-American protest was hailed in the White House as a vindication for the US strategy of bombing and then occupying the country. "In Iraq, there's discussion, debate, protest - all the hallmarks of liberty," said President George Bush that week. "The path to freedom may not always be neat and orderly, but it is the right of every person and every nation."

On February 22 2005, tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters took to the streets of Beirut to call for the Syrians to leave the country. Within a week the Syrians announced indefinite plans to leave. Front covers of magazines carried pictures of pretty young Lebanese women waving flags (at last, some Arabs editors could fancy) proclaiming a "cedar revolution" and "people power". The protest was hailed in the White House as a vindication for the US strategy of bombing and occupying Iraq. "By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future," said Bush. "We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed, and we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power."

On March 8 2005, 500,000 pro-Syrian protesters took to the streets of Beirut to oppose US and European interference. The demonstration was backed by Hizbullah, which the US has branded a terrorist organisation. People carried banners saying "Death to America". It was several times bigger than the first anti-Syrian protest. They too waved Lebanese flags. But editors didn't find them pretty. They did not appear on the front pages of the news magazines. Their protest was not hailed in the White House. In fact, its existence was barely acknowledged.

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side," George Orwell once wrote. "He has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

So it is on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, where the occupying powers are still so desperate to create a moral framework to justify the war that embracing the irrelevant and ignoring the inconvenient has become the only viable strategy left to them.

We have entered a world where reality - like the photographs of torture or the absence of weapons of mass destruction - is just a minor blockage in a flood of official, upbeat declarations and statements. Each new dispatch from the departments of irony on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that truth can be created by assertion, principle can be established by deception and democracy can be imposed through aggression. These people would claim credit for the good weather and deny responsibility for their own signature if they thought they could get away with it.

Two years on, the death toll keeps rising, the size of the "coalition" keeps shrinking and global public support for this reckless occupation has maintained its downward spiral from a low base. Indeed, the only thing that changes is the rationale for starting the war, where the sophistry of the occupying powers keeps plumbing new depths and selective amnesia has attained new highs.

We are supposed to believe that there is no link between the American shooting of an Italian intelligence agent on a rescue mission and Rome's decision to withdraw its troops 10 days later. "I don't see a connection there," says the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan. We are supposed to remember Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds 17 years ago in graphic detail and forget everything that happened in Abu Ghraib 16 months ago.

"If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," said Republican senator Jim Talent at a recent hearing on torture. How about ramming someone who does not have the name of a bomb maker in the anus with a truncheon, Mr Talent. Are you for that too?

Most recently, we have been told to believe that the limited and as yet untested moves towards democracy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the thawing in Palestinian-Israeli relations (largely the result of Yasser Arafat's death) and the proposed withdrawal of Syrian troops (prompted by an outcry over the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri) all justify the bombing.

As further proof they point to January's elections in Iraq. This was a vote that the Americans wanted to postpone, in which many people could not participate, that produced a victory for Islamists with close ties to Iran who want the US troops out as soon as possible. If all of this amounts to victory, I would hate to see what their idea of defeat looks like.

The truth is that you cannot even begin to make a justification for the war unless you take into account the lives of innocent Iraqis lost as a result of it. The simplest way to deal with that is to pretend that these deaths do not exist - the occupying powers simply do not count them. The only other defence is that their deaths are a price worth paying and that good things can come from bad acts - a claim every bit as offensive and wrong-headed as arguing that 9/11 was a price worth paying for waking America up to the consequences of its foreign policy.

But the Iraqis are not the only ones to have suffered these past two years. While the occupiers have been busy failing to export democracy abroad, they have been busy undermining it at home. All of them lied to their electorates about the reasons for going to war. With the exception of America, all of them went to war despite overwhelming opposition from the public. And through their anti-terrorist bills and patriot acts they have removed some of the most basic legal rights of their citizens and criminalised the most vulnerable.

The elections last year in Spain and recent events in Italy are encouraging. They show that while the anti-war movement failed to stop the war, it has maintained a sufficiently effective presence to make a crucial difference at key moments to disable and discredit it.

In the meantime, the department of irony will keep moulding its own version of reality until it is sufficiently warped to fit its own agenda. US troop withdrawal, said Bush last week, "would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves". They are already defending themselves Mr Bush - from you.

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