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By Bill Gallagher

"It's a very bad situation over there. It's getting worse and worse." -- Jafer Alkufi, Iraqi-American.

DETROIT -- Iraq is disintegrating. That is certain. The only uncertainty now is the extent of the disaster, the reach of the tragedy. More than 3,700 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest number since the U.S. invasion. November's numbers are sure to be worse.

President George W. Bush's mad experiment in nation-building, his arrogant move to use military force to try to brand Iraq as a Western-style democracy, is a failure. The bullying backfired and has made the Middle East more dangerous and our nation less secure.

No one has a simple solution, simply because there isn't one. James A. Baker will offer his slant to the full Iraqi Study Group this week and the former secretary of state will try to spin a bipartisan plan to rescue the reckless "Bring 'em on" Bush from the horrible mess he has created.

Baker, his boys and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will use a lot of diplomatic language to explain a strategy that will essentially outline a measured extrication of U.S. forces tied to some nebulous benchmarks the administration can say are met no matter what happens. The military can do little to quell the sectarian violence, which has all the markings of civil war, in spite of the futile denials of the White House.

Vice President Dick Cheney has already touched base with our dear friends the Saudis. He met with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, ostensibly to enlist Saudi help in pacifying Iraq. In fact, they probably spent most of their time discussing oil prices and what the disintegration of Iraq means for worldwide supply.

Since Cheney is one of the chief architects of the fiasco in Iraq, why would any adult listen to his analysis of the future there and throughout the Middle East? The Saudis are a special case, however. They are Bush family intimates and still have big contracts with Halliburton. They pretend Bush and Cheney know what they're talking about.

The Busheviks will never stop seeing Iraq as a pawn in their grand geopolitical scheme and never admit their deadly cocktail -- equal measures of fantasy, hubris and incompetence -- created the horrible suffering there and resentment that will take generations to suppress, if that's ever possible.

The Iraqi-Americans on Warren Avenue feel the tragedy in painfully personal terms. The street runs though Detroit and Dearborn, and is one of the major commercial stretches for the area's large Middle Eastern community. Many of the business signs are in Arabic and English, some just in Arabic. Most of the people in the neighborhood are Lebanese or Iraqi.

People on this street were once filled with hope. They danced in jubilation the day U.S. troops rolled into Baghdad. Last Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving Day massacres, the most violent day in Iraq since the invasion, I stopped by the River Land Market.

Most of the shoppers are Iraqi Shiites. I have been there many times and enjoy the welcome hospitality of the owners. The store's meat case is filled with beautifully butchered lamb. Mountains of fresh fruit fill the bins of the produce section. Products from all over the Middle East line the shelves. The food reminds people of the Iraq an increasing number of them now believe they will never see again.

Jafer Alkufi works there. He is originally from Najaf and came to the United States after the first Gulf War. He shook his head as we discussed the carnage that took the lives of more than 200 people in Sadr City, the largely Shiite section of Baghdad. Sunni militia set off car bombs and fired mortar shells into the densely populated district in a horrible spasm of bloodshed.

Shiite militia predictably retaliated in this endless cycle of revenge. They burned Sunni mosques, shot imams, and doused some worshipers in kerosene and set them on fire. This is what Bush's war has brought to Iraq, and it will get worse.

"If you go back three years ago, people were happy there," Jafer said. "And the same thing here in Detroit and Dearborn. People happy celebrating because they changed Saddam. But now the people really feel bad about their families. I still have my family over there. I'm lucky I have my wife and kids here. But still I have a brother and sisters, my father and mother over there."

I asked him about the prospect of Iraq's destruction and more violence.

"I believe there will be more and more," he said with quiet resignation. "It will become worse and worse."

I couldn't find anyone at the market with any hope. I ran into Arkan Alsamwi, who has a radio program and runs a small newspaper for the Iraqi community. "It's really bad," he sighed. "We feel pain. We feel sad. These people are our family."

Arkan's father was killed in the 1991 Shiite uprising. His hopes for a better Iraq have faded. He faults the planning and execution of post-Saddam Iraq: "I believe there are so many mistakes the United States government did, the Iraqi government did. They don't have a schedule for the work to be done over there."

Arkan said most of the people in charge in the Iraqi government keep their families in the United States, United Kingdom and Jordan. "And they are over there in the green zone," he added. "And the Iraqi people are in the red zone. They're facing terrorism themselves without support."

This week Bush meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq. But they won't be meeting in the green zone. No, Bush will assess Iraq, "the forefront" of his war on terror in Amman, Jordan.

That tells it all. Iraq is lost.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com November 28 2006