As things now stand, it is difficult to predict how things will eventually turn out in Iraq. Anything is possible including eventual partition – the outcome most favored by the neo-cons. On the other hand, we might end up with a failed state where nihilistic ethnic and sectarian militias confront each other in an orgy of violence to settle old and new grievances. The most likely scenario is the emergence of a Shia dominated theocracy tied at the hip to the clerical regime in Tehran. One can always hope for a rapid Anglo-American withdrawal followed by a broad effort at national reconciliation. But that possibility is becoming more remote with every new spasm of inter-communal mayhem.

Until now, reading the Iraqi tea leaves hardly required a degree in rocket science. It was easy enough to discount the pre-war ‘intelligence’, predict the insurgency and see the early signs of the infiltration of the Iraqi security forces by Iranian trained militants. Very few credible observers were confounded when Iraqis opted to vote in conformity with their sectarian and ethnic allegiances.

Even the Abu Ghraib scandal and the take-no-prisoners assaults on Fallujah, Najaf and Tal Afar were the predictable behavior of a hyper power that never does war without doing war crimes. Washington’s high tolerance for Iraqi “collateral damage” was a superficial refinement of the old doctrine of ‘kill them all and let God sort them out.’

There was no need for a crystal ball to figure out that Iraq would turn into a manufacturing plant for Al-Qaida sympathizers. Many neo-cons actually hailed the prospect. Of course, in their jaded worldview, there were a finite number of terrorists who would be drawn to the conflict and wiped out. The idea was to use Iraq as a magnet to lure radical jihadists to the swamp and then simply drain the swamp. Essentially, Iraq would be converted into a ‘fly trap’ for Bin Laden and his fellow travelers. These days, even the Pentagon admits that the insurgency – including its most radical elements – is home grown.

It wasn’t only cynics who dismissed the notion that Bush invaded Iraq to promote democracy in the Middle East. Washington hitched a ride on the freedom train only after all other excuses for the invasion vaporized into thin air. The transparently fraudulent push for democratic reform in the region was a post-quagmire gimmick designed to defuse the domestic and international outcry over the absence of weapons of mass destruction and the advent of chaos.

It’s now pretty well established that the invasion had nothing to do with preventing nuclear mushroom clouds over New York and London. George Bush has already conceded that Saddam wasn’t even remotely connected to the suicidal assaults on the World Trade Center. Every serious intelligence analyst knew that Saddam’s military was in tatters after a decade of sanctions. And UN intrusive weapons search teams had repeatedly failed to find a trace of Iraq’s alleged nuclear and chemical arsenals. In fact, one can argue that Iraq was invaded precisely because it was deemed an easy mark.

Despite the best efforts by the alternative press, the vast majority of Americans, including anti-war activists, have failed to decipher the secret American agenda in Iraq – propping up the almighty dollar, enhancing Israel’s strategic position and protecting the Gulf monarchies and their oil plantations.

So, as we approach the third anniversary of this war of choice, it is instructive to review the pre-invasion blue prints.

‘Plan A’ was simple enough. Deploy troops in Kuwait and Turkey. Put together an ‘international coalition’ similar to the one Bush senior recruited for Desert Storm. Solicit a UN Security Council resolution to legalize the invasion. Initiate hostilities with a ‘shock and awe’ air campaign to decapitate Saddam’s regime. Dispatch Special Forces behind enemy lines to secure the oil fields. Launch the ground assault and conduct mop up operations. Install Ahmed Chalabi as a puppet president. Assign Paul Bremer as the American Viceroy to lord over the Iraqi oil fiefdom. Iraqis would then be adopted as wards of the United States for a period of ten to twenty ten years - or however long it took to put together a modern and secular pro-American social order. To enforce Emperor Bremer’s dictates, permanent bases would be built to accommodate a garrison of thirty to fifty thousand troops.

The cost estimate for Plan A was around fifty Billion. After greeting our troops with rose parades, the Iraqis were expected to display their generosity by reimbursing Bush for the cost of the invasion. Their oil proceeds would be more than enough to finance reconstruction efforts.

No one in the Pentagon has yet to reveal how many American casualties were expected. But since old generals usually design their battle plans based on recent military experience – it is worth taking a guess. Serbia resulted in a single American fatality and Afghanistan was conquered with an initial loss of less than twenty members of the CIA and Special Forces. The terrain in both countries were formidable compared to Iraq. The Serbs had a modern European army at their disposal and the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were considered infinitely more motivated than the draftees in Saddam’s army. In a worse case scenario, it’s safe to assume that the Pentagon expected under a hundred fatalities.

Another projected result of the war was a reduction of oil prices – as a pliant Iraq replaced Saudi Arabia to become the world’s major swing producer. The new Iraq would be expected to withdraw from OPEC and privatize its oil industry. Among the more fanciful neo-con fantasies was the construction of an oil pipeline to Haifa. Based on these pre-war projections, American companies were salivating at the prospect of economic dividends from Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

Once Plan A was implemented, the neo-cons had other blue prints ready for the march on Damascus and Tehran.

On first contact with reality, ‘Plan A’ fell apart. Even before the first shot was fired, serious revisions had to be made. Turkey refused to be a staging ground for the invasion and the United Nations balked at granting Washington a license to initiate hostilities. In rounding up a credible international ‘coalition of the willing’, Bush Junior was reduced to pleading with stalwart allies like Mongolia and Bulgaria to volunteer a few hundred foot soldiers. Even these token participants only agreed to deploy their forces after the ground invasion was a done deal.

Aside from Tony Blair’s brigades, the only credible contributions to the effort to secure post-invasion Iraq came from Poland, Italy, Spain and South Korea. Most of these ‘willing’ coalition partners were drawn into the Iraqi enterprise by the promise of material rewards in the form of lucrative post-invasion contracts. In the case of the Eastern European contingents, there was the additional desire to prove their loyalty as new NATO allies – in contrast to the ‘fickle’ men of ‘Old Europe’ represented by the treasonous French and the ungrateful Germans. Even the Gulf Arabs – who publicly condemned the venture but rolled out the red carpet to facilitate the invasion – refused to pitch in with their armed forces.

So, by the time American tanks rolled into Baghdad, the initial blue print had to be repeatedly revised. ‘Plan B’ required a last minute re-deployment of tens of thousands of troops anchored off the coast of Turkey – after Istanbul rebuffed Wolfowitz’s last minute entreaties to grant them landing rights. ‘Plan C’ was to pressure the British to go into battle without a UN resolution. Unlike Bush, the Prime Minister still faces the prospect of criminal charges in British courts for launching an illegal war of aggression. The invasion date was delayed when Blair came under serious domestic pressure – which included the resignation of Robin Cook

Even though Hans Blix unexpectedly encountered transparency and cooperation in Baghdad, he still came up empty handed in his search for the phantom WMD stockpiles. After building the case for war exclusively on Saddam’s possession of illicit weapons, Bush was obliged to give a preposterous ultimatum to the United Nations to suspend its search and get its people out of Baghdad. A year later, the administration quietly conceded that Iraq was innocent of all WMD charges. Instead of taking responsibility for the absence of common sense, Bush and his neo-con cronies placed the entire blame on the intelligence community.

The new popular myth about this war is that the administration failed to develop a post-war plan. In fact, State Department experts put together a comprehensive strategy that was shelved primarily because some of the planners were suspected ‘Arabists.’ The neo-cons have an enduring grudge against American diplomats who might know a thing or two about the Middle East but have no work history in pro-Israeli think tanks.

To appease neo-con sensibilities, Dick Cheney intervened and Colin Powell’s experts were unceremoniously dismissed. Post war planning was then handed over to the Pentagon. Rumsfeld’s nominee to lead and supervise post-hostilities reconstruction and stabilization efforts was the genius most responsible for manufacturing WMD canards – Douglas Feith. For reasons unknown, Rummy still refuses to expedite the ongoing internal DOD investigation of Feith’s pivotal role in corrupting pre-war intelligence.

Since the invasion, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Initial resistance to the occupation was deemed to be a passing storm by disgruntled dead-enders and Saddam loyalists. Accordingly, plans were made to deal with that delusionary perception. In the meantime, the Iraqi army was disbanded. In its place, the Pentagon wizards envisioned a reconstituted 40,000 native Iraqi defense force that would be assigned to guard the borders and oil installations.

As these plans evolved and failed – the administration finally realized they had a serious insurgency on their hands. Needless to say, new strategies had to be developed to deal with new perceptions. When the coalition forces continued to suffer daily casualties, force protection became the number one priority. To deal with that awkward reality, the Pentagon decided to reverse itself and substantially increase the size of the Iraqi army to shoulder some of the burden of confronting the rebels. This new scheme required considerable modifications when Sunni insurgents infiltrated army ranks. So, either by design or out of desperation, new Iraqi Army units developed along sectarian lines. The predictable result is that entire army brigades are now made up exclusively of Shia and Kurdish recruits.

After the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) won the first round of legislative elections, they handed over the post of Prime Minister to Jaffari, the leader of the Dawa party. The reason for this ‘generous’ concession to the junior member of the Shia alliance became clear when SCIRI scored an even bigger prize – control over the Interior Ministry. Under Bayan Jabor, a leader of the Badr Brigades, the ministry was converted into a new home for Iranian trained militants. Before long, elite police units were moonlighting as death squads. SCIRI and other Shia militias have also infiltrated the army en masse.

The British and American forces have now decided to retreat to well protected garrisons and hand over the bulk of the fighting to the Iraqi army – which is still a work in progress. The designated role for coalition forces is to train new recruits and back up the Iraqi army with logistical support – including air cover. This new strategy is nothing but a replay of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. Can ‘peace with honor’ be far behind?

Like all previous plans, this one had unintended consequences. Iraq now appears to be caught in the early stages of what might turn out to be a nasty civil war. A reign of terror has been unleashed against ordinary Iraqis already suffering the trauma of three wars, genocidal sanctions and a brutal dictatorship. The carnage that followed the destruction of the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra indicates that the Anglo-American forces have lost control of the situation and decided to avoid ‘taking sides.’ By keeping out of the fray, the ceded the final word to the Shia and Sunni clerics who successfully intervened to cool tempers while coalition troops stood on the sidelines.

At every stage of this unnecessary and immoral tragedy, the administration had set benchmarks that would derail the insurgency and usher in a semblance of stability. The arrest and trial of Saddam Hussein, handing nominal sovereignty to an Iraqi puppet government, the interim government elections, the constitutional referendum and last December’s election all promised to put Iraq on the path to a united secular pro-American democracy with peace and prosperity for all. Three months after the last goal post, the Iraqi parliament has yet to convene and the streets of Baghdad are as treacherous as ever.

Iraq today is a land where security forces, armed militias and insurgents are indistinguishable. All three engage in arbitrary arrest, torture their victims and dispatch them with a single bullet to the head. Reporters, intellectuals, political activists and college professors are routinely assassinated. Hardly a day goes by without car bomb explosions. Criminal gangs roam the land kidnapping victims for profit and the only relatively safe place in Baghdad is the Green Zone – which still occasionally comes under mortar fire.

In a country blessed with ample oil reserves, Iraqis spend hours lining up at gas stations. Petroleum exports are at an all time low. Electricity is a temporary phenomenon. Most of the population remains unemployed and the southern provinces have been transformed into a virtual theocracy.

Mixed messages are coming out of Washington about the combat readiness of the new Iraqi Army. While American generals testify before Congress about ‘progress’, Zalmay Khalilzad concedes that the invasion of Iraq has opened a Pandora’s Box of sectarian conflicts that could spill over into neighboring states.

In the aftermath of Samarra, the only remaining justification for the continued deployment of 130,000 American troops is to prevent a major outbreak of civil strife. Yet, Rumsfeld is sending unmistakable signals that - in the event of civil war - US troops will take a neutral stand. Which begs the question: why continue placing American troops in harm’s way when the administration has no intention of engaging them in an effort to prevent a civil war.

Complicating matters, Iran is currently being primed for American military intervention. In the event of hostilities, Tehran would certainly retaliate by launching missiles against US troop garrisons in Iraq. The Shia militias in Iraq have publicly stated that they will not stand idle if their Iranian brethren are subjected to America’s military might. No worries. The Pentagon must have plans for that such eventualities. It’s probably called ‘Plan X’.

Washington now fears that the only victors to emerge from a civil war will be Iran’s theocrats. Its response, it has been making overtures to its old adversaries - the Sunni rebels.

The cumulative cost for all these plans can be readily measured in blood, in treasure and in America’s international standing. Over 2300 American soldiers have already made the ultimate sacrifice and 16,000 have been seriously wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis – the majority of them innocent civilians – are no longer among the living. The administration continues to stand by its policy of not doing body counts. But if one considers the relative size of Iraq’s population – our colonial subjects in Mesopotamia have already suffered the equivalent of one million American casualties. In terms of direct and indirect financial loss, economists are now projecting that this unnecessary intervention will probably cost upwards of one thousand billion dollars. And most security experts agree that the war has created a breeding ground for more terrorism.

While the neo-cons tinker with new plans, domestic pressures to withdraw the troops are intensifying and coming from unlikely voices on the right like William Buckley, Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Andrew Sullivan. The majority of Americans are now firmly against the war – including the troops stationed in Iraq. The White House’s new focus is to develop new contingency plans to deal with George Bush’s blue dress moment. I am just guessing that the blue prints will be called ‘Plan X’.

Which brings us to Plan Z – a major American international campaign to expand the letters of the alphabet to deal with the unpredictable outcomes of this disastrous war of choice.