The imminent execution of Saddam Hussein is nothing but a smokescreen - a diversion in a series of diversions that will do nothing to address the price of the occupation of Iraq. If the Bush administration truly wanted to curb the cycle of bloodshed, it would come clean and share with the US public, the Iraqi people, and the international community the real goals of this disastrous neoconservative adventure.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq was an act of US imperialism, marketed as a war of liberation. Iraq was chosen ahead of Iran or Syria because it had been weakened by 13 years of sanctions. It provided the opportunity to station US bases in the Middle East, and a vantage point to monitor Iran. Control of the massive oil reserves was not to be sniffed at, either. It was assumed that Iraqis' distaste for Saddam would somehow make occupation acceptable.
It has, of course, proved to be anything but acceptable. It has proven unacceptable to the people of Iraq, the Middle East, and the world over. Today, a country is occupied and its sovereignty violated. The UN's legal and moral authority has been undermined. Iraq's cultural heritage is in tatters, its natural resources squandered, its infrastructure destroyed.
Safety, security and the rule of law are nonexistent. Terrorism is on the rise. This is borne out even in Washington's own reports. More than 3 million Iraqis have fled their homes. More than 600,000 civilians have been killed.
Officials of the former regime are judged and punished - sometimes with death sentences as in Saddam Hussein's case. Regardless of the nature of the crimes, it is only right that allegations should be tested by a properly constituted court of law that meets the basic requirements of justice, fairness and independence. These qualities could not be found in the court in Iraq, established by US viceroy Paul Bremer, who appointed its judges in direct contravention of international law.
This death sentence lacks the legality that might make it worthy of respect. It also makes it less likely that those who still support Saddam Hussein will participate in the political process being called for by the US president and the Iraqi prime minister. So it is not surprising that few Iraqis believe such an illegitimate execution will help heal wounds.
The US presents the Iraqi people with this phoney act of accountability, but no one has been held accountable for invading and occupying Iraq or the mass human rights abuses carried out in the process. If this generation of Iraqis is not able to get justice, future generations will make sure they do. They will look to the established system of international justice to recognise these atrocities and hold people accountable retrospectively.
The occupying forces continue to peddle the nonsense that they cannot withdraw immediately - that this would only spark civil war. I am convinced that the opposite is true: when the occupiers leave, the prevailing civil war will subside. Ordinary Iraqis will have to choose between killing each other or rebuilding the country - which they can only do in an independent, sovereign Iraq.
The US and its allies should apologise to the Iraqi people for the suffering the war has caused. It should offer compensation based on criteria used in Kuwait after the first Gulf war. Under the auspices of the UN, it must end the occupation and hand over power to a sovereign Iraqi government mandated to respect human rights.
· Dr Burhan al-Chalabi is a former chairman of the British Iraqi Foundation and a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs firstname.lastname@example.org