So, it is mission impossible that Bush has accomplished: A terminally inept U.S. occupation of Iraq now threatens to make the despot we overthrew look good by comparison. But don’t take my word for it; hear it from the United States’ No. 1 ally in that increasingly nightmarish land.

“[Authorities] are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse,” former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the London Observer, of human-rights abuses by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. “It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.” Allawi, one of Hussein’s victims, became a trusted CIA asset and later was handpicked by the United States to be the leader of the new Iraq. He now is the leading secular alternative to the Shiite theocrats expected to win the Dec. 15 election.

What Allawi is decrying is the brutal behavior of new security forces empowered by the U.S. invasion but beholden, according to most reports, to Shiite religious parties intent on controlling Iraq. To accomplish their mission, they’re using the kind of “ethnic cleansing” terror seen so recently in Rwanda and the Balkans.

“We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,” said Allawi. “A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Shariah courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.”

Allawi was not alone in painting a grim picture this week of what our president trumpets as an emerging democracy.

“Hundreds of accounts of killings and abductions have emerged in recent weeks, most of them brought forward by Sunni civilians, who claim that their relatives have been taken away by Iraqi men in uniform without warrant or explanation,” reports the New York Times. “Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq’s police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law, according to documents and scores of interviews,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Through our careless and uncaring attempts at “nation-building,” the United States has put itself in the position of providing a convenient shield for what is increasingly looking like a takeoff on the Cambodian Killing Fields — down to the continuing targeting of academics of all ethnicities by self-appointed executioners. Civil war is no longer a possibility; it is a reality.

Amazingly, in Bush’s Iraq, just as in Hussein’s, you’re either a victim or a victimizer — often both. The grim ironies of this Darwinist nightmare are everywhere. For example, while the military is defending the use of white phosphorus on the battlefield — “shake and bake” in U.S. military slang — by citing loopholes in chemical weapons restrictions, it can’t look good to the world that one of the human-rights crimes Hussein himself is charged with is — you guessed it — shelling Kurdish rebels and civilians with chemical weapons in 1991.

When presented with such consensus depictions of Iraq as it is, not as our cloistered and purposely ignorant president believes it to be, those who still defend the occupation make two main claims: This is all just the birthing pains of a democracy, and the civil war will get worse if we leave. I don’t agree with either prediction; the U.S. presence fuels both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite radicalism. The argument, however, should be moot anyway, because both the Iraqi and American publics have clearly signaled they want us to get out, starting now.

Yet, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reports in the current issue of the New Yorker, it is unclear what it’s going to take to convince our increasingly isolated commander in chief to change course. Bush, according to a highly placed unnamed source Hersh cites, thinks his razor-thin win in 2004 is “another manifestation of divine purpose,” and that history will judge him well.

“The president is more determined than ever to stay the course,” a former defense official told Hersh. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage, ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’.”

Maybe that is not the thinking that motivates Bush, but can anyone come up with a more rational explanation for his determination to stay the course that leads into the abyss? It is time we called a halt to our mindless messing in other people’s lives. As we wind down the third year of an occupation that has killed and maimed tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis and cost U.S. taxpayers upwards of $300 billion, isn’t it time to give the Iraqis the chance to see if they can do better — on their own?

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