1 SEPTEMBER 2007, Page 14

A menace of our making

Sir: What would Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, the coolest of heads, have made of poor William Shawcross's overwrought emotional plea that we must stay on in Iraq as a kind of act of faith (Britain must stay in Iraq', 25 August)? Well, the Duke once opined: The real test of a general is to know when to retreat and dare to do it.'

Surely we have reached that point in Iraq, although a retreat needs to be well prepared and deliberate. Even American generals are now acknowledging that George W. Bush's original purpose in attacking Iraq, that of creating a viable Iraqi democratic regime, is now beyond reach.

Willie Shawcross follows George Bush in yammering on about the present menace of al-Qa'eda in Iraq. Yet Bush (and Yo Blair in his time) themselves created this menace through their invasion and occupation of the country. In Saddam's strictly secular Iraq, alQa'eda and other forms of Islamist extremism were ruthlessly put down.

Is it not plainer every month that we would all (including Iraqis) now be much better off if Saddam Hussein had been left in power, but under continued allied air surveillance?

Con-elli Barnett Norwich Sir: Why does William Shawcross quote US military officers? What purpose does the British army in Basra actually serve, other than provide free target practice for the local thugs? We have no pressing or concrete national interest in Iraq, and our national honour already stands pawned in this matter.

The perception that we are held in Basra to prevent a humiliating loss of face by the US government may not be correct, but it is increasingly being believed, as the abject poverty of the Coalition's political objectives becomes plain. If Mr al-Maliki lacks power over his own people, who is to blame for that?

Mr Shawcross ignores unfashionable though realistic objections in favour of unprovable apocalyptic statements and unsound historicity, glossing over the unpalatable facts with vague exhortations, promises and nightmares. As Santayana said, 'fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim'.

Adam Walker Framwellgate Moor, Durham Sir: What a terrific story by William Shawcross in your good periodical. It brings back memories of the horror of the killing fields of Cambodia. He truly seems to understand the peril of withdrawing from Iraq.

Tom Kubitz Freeport, Illinois, USA