How much more lethal can the Iraq war become? About 1,000 Iraqi deaths every month, a U.S. death toll of more than 2,000 and nine British soldiers killed in the past month. Monday's roadside bomb in Baghdad, which killed two journalists, critically injured another and took the lives of two U.S. soldiers and an interpreter, showed that being embedded with troops now offers scant protection.
Hopes that an elected Parliament and transferred sovereignty would cause the violence to decline have proved vain. Five months after landmark elections, Iraq's government is still incomplete.
Even if it had a full lineup of ministers, it is hard to see it restoring law and order now that conflicting interests have run amok.
Can the Iraq war really become more lethal? I fear it can. The television team targeted on Monday was no exception. Anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time has become a target. And that includes Iraqis who belong to the "wrong" ethnic or religious group for the area in which they have lived all their life. Ethnic cleansing is rife, as practiced in the disintegrating Yugoslavia.
This may not amount to the feared Iraq civil war; indeed, the movement of populations now gathering pace might even pre-empt all-out military conflict. But the fragmented result would not look very like the Iraq that George W. Bush envisaged when he embarked on this project. It might not, strictly speaking, look very like Iraq at all.
The reality that is now coalescing is an Iraq divided awkwardly in three and pushing to separate further. Without any improvement in security, it is a matter of time before the Kurdish north opts for full independence. The contest for population, oil and territory at the new border with Iraq would be bitterly fought, but the consequence would be a new state whose existence would potentially destabilize the whole region.
The Turkish military would fight politically, perhaps with arms, against pressure from its own Kurds for a "greater Kurdistan."
Military action would destroy Turkey's European Union aspirations. Greater assertiveness by Kurds in Syria could undermine Bashir Assad's fragile authority, precipitating unrest that could spill back into Iraq.
In Iraq itself, the increasing subjugation of the Sunni population might satisfy the desire of the Shiite majority to avenge their own treatment under Saddam Hussein. However, Iraq's Shiite are themselves divided. And the more eventual power the Shiite scent, the sharper will be the contest to lead them. He who eventually attains leadership of the Shiite will be in a position to claim leadership of what remains of Iraq.
This sorry picture is not complete. Shiite dominance of Iraq will automatically extend the regional influence of Iran. The United States and British charge periodically that Tehran is already fishing in Iraq's troubled waters. But it hardly needs to. All it has to do is wait until a weak, Shiite-dominated Iraq slips into its sphere of influence. The map says it all.
Iran's regional dominance will only be enhanced by the renewed unrest in Afghanistan. Even before this week, U.S. hopes were fading of a post-Taliban Afghanistan that would be stable, almost democratic and kept out of trouble by Washington's client, Hamid Karzai. The violence that broke out in Kabul this week after a fatal crash involving a U.S. military vehicle showed how close to the surface anti-Western sentiment now runs. And all because the United States and Britain allowed themselves to be diverted from a realistic exercise in nation building by their ill-conceived adventure in Iraq.
We have known from the start of the Iraq war what the best-case scenario was supposed to be. Bush and Blair told us many times of the beacon that would spread the glorious light of democracy and freedom around the region. So bright would it be that even such dark recesses as Saudi Arabia would be illuminated.
But was there ever, I wonder, a worse-case scenario that they glanced at before burying it with other unwelcome "classified" material? And if there was, how different was it from the regional mayhem we are seeing today? If Iran had set out to establish itself as the superpower in the region, it could hardly have done the job more economically, or to more conclusive effect.
Mary Dejevsky writes for The Independent in Britain.