American officials, along with sundry pundits, are sincere in their belief that violence has dropped markedly in Iraq and that the country is well on its way to becoming an 'island of stability'. If you fake sincerity, well, the world is rosy.

As the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, on March 20, we see that facts on the ground attest otherwise.

But when officials in Washington, from President Bush on down, and pro-war commentators in the national media (yes quite a few of these lost souls are still floating around) gloat over an alleged drop in over-all violence in that tormented, fractured land, we are lulled into acquiescence, for it's easy to forget that the putative reduction in that violence is a reduction only when compared to the rampant mayhem in 2007.

As insurgents re-assert their presence, surge or no surge, blood-letting continues abreast. Last Monday, as a case in point, bombers struck four times in and around Baghdad, killing 19 people, including five American service members.

None of the blasts,however, was as powerful as the two bombings that killed 68 people and injured 120 four days earlier in a Baghdad shopping district. Sunni clan leaders who cooperate with US forces are daily hunted down and killed by insurgents.

And Iraqis continue to massacre their fellow Iraqis in genocidal acts of sectarian violence that often go unnoticed and unreported, as evidenced by the discovery earlier this week, in the Diyala River region, of a mass grave with the decomposed remains of close to 100 people, including women and children.

And, yes, five years after the invasion, which was to turn Iraq into a 'beacon of democracy' and an island of stability, a magnet to its neighbours, as it were, Iraqis would be thankful if their government provided them with more than five hours of electricity a day.

A paradox, is it not? Iraq, after all, is a country that has some of the world's largest oil reserves, yet remains a country that, thanks to bureaucratic infighting over revenue-sharing, and to brazen corruption, ineptitude and waste in the oil and electricity ministries, spent nearly a billion dollars importing oil products last year.

And as far as Washington is concerned, the Iraq war has seriously wounded the US economy, which translates as seriously wounding the American people deep in their pockets, for this war has already cost them $3 trillion.

Spending trillions

"You can't spend $3 trillion -yes $3 trillion - on a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home", wrote Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, respectively a former chief financial officer at the Commerce Department and a professor at Columbia University, co-authors of the recently published book The Three Trillion Dollar War : The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict .

As former secretary of state Colin Powell warned President Bush on the eve of war, in a pottery shop, if you break it, you pay for it. Iraq may be off the front pages, but the country is broken, and Americans now own it. So they're paying the cost at the cashier's desk.

While the fantasists at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, along with those hawkish commentators writing in their columns and speaking from the podiums of the American Enterprise Institute, try to sell the myth that the surge is working, political, economic and social dysfunction envelops Iraq, with 2.5 million of its citizens having fled to the surrounding countries (a flight triggered by sectarian blood-letting, kidnappings, lawlessness and hardship), and another 2.5 million having become 'internal refugees' - folks who had abandoned their homes in order to live in other parts of the country to escape ethnic cleansing.

In an interview with a Washington Post correspondent on Jan. 20, a 40-year-old Iraqi refugee, held in a Lebanese prison for months, exclaimed pathetically: "I would go to Darfur before going back to Iraq". You can't be more adamant than that. It's all sad, but it's all true.

On the eve of war, Iraq, it will be recalled, was central to the plan concocted by the neocons in President Bush's administration to 'transform' the Muslim world. "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution", declared President Bush, who saw Baghdad then as a way station to the regrouping of the geopolitics of the region in response to America's interests.

Imperial hubris

The triumph of democracy there, he proclaimed grandly, "will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation".

The consequences of the Iraq misadventure (for misadventure it had been from the outset) turned out to be bleaker than anyone would have imagined almost exactly five years ago.

Even where imbued with imperial hubris, as the US was on March 20, 2003, a big power will be subject, in the end, to that implacable law in geopolitics as in everyday life: you play, you pay.

Fawaz Turki is a veteran journalist, lecturer and author of several books, including The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile. He lives in Washington D.C.