THE news that two more British soldiers have been killed in Iraq throws into sharp focus once again the continued abject failure of the US-UK intervention in that miserable country and there is no sign whatsoever of any end to it all.
Sadly, these deaths are only a fraction of the daily death toll Iraqis are suffering. Such is the regularity of murder and mayhem that incidents which leave 20 or 30 people dead are now barely reported in this country and it is only massacres on the scale of last week's stampede that receive any prominence. In many of this morning's papers, the soldiers' deaths do not even lead a page. Life for the troops in Iraq may be better than that of the average Iraqi, but with the ever-present threat of attack it echoes the worst days of IRA activity in the Ulster border bandit country.
But the differences between Ulster and Iraq are massive. Intelligence is poor, the supply lines are long and there is diminishing backing from even the most supportive sectors of the local community.
While remaining professional, many soldiers do not believe in the cause, troop numbers are inadequate for the job and so the tours of duty are more frequent than in Seventies Northern Ireland. For Scots, they also have the demoralising realisation that their regiments' days are numbered.
There has never been a genuine exit strategy from this morass and the worse the violence the less likely one becomes. George Bush and Tony Blair continue to deny that the country is in a state of civil war and while it was always going to take more than two years to create a democratic state after years of dictatorship, they are further from that now than when the first missiles rained down on Baghdad. The draft constitution will do nothing solve the problem, with the strong probability that Sunni Arabs will reject it.
The chaos enveloping the US Gulf Coast is likely to increase the calls for American withdrawal. Mr Bush has proved as inept at dealing with this crisis as he proved adept at dealing with the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The fact that much of the Louisiana National Guard is in Iraq will fuel Americans' argument that if they can't handle disaster at home then they shouldn't be dealing with them abroad.
Mr Bush will be out of the White House come 2008, by which time New Orleans should have recovered but Iraq will still be tearing itself apart. Tony Blair will leave his successor the same legacy; and how many people in Number 10 still think it was a good idea to drag Britain into this expedition on the back of a lie.