Just at a time when coverage of the war is declining, Iraq is on the brink. Any hope generated by the January election and the stumbling attempts to form a credible government are now being washed away in a torrent of blood and gore.

Five hundred people, mostly civilians, have been murdered just since the new government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was formalized on April 28.

Think about it: 500 in just the past few weeks.

More than 1,000 others have been wounded as scores of car bombs have ripped through markets, mosques and even funerals for prior victims. Such is the handiwork of the hydra-headed insurgents who some still stoop to call “the resistance.” As The New York Times noted this past week, this is the first guerrilla insurgency in modern times that seems to cherish mass murder of civilians as one of its strategies, if not its primary goal. Resistance is a term that carries far too much historic prestige to squander on these gangs of murderers. Whatever one thinks of the U.S. occupation, there can be no justification for mass-murdering the occupied.

The majority of the areas hit by the bomb attacks are Shiite. Most of the insurgent leadership is thought to be Sunni, the ethnic minority favored by the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

Now comes news that 50 people shot to death over the last few days have had their bodies littered throughout the country, raising red-hot fears that Iraq’s rival ethnic communities may be poised for extended butchery.

Some Iraqis fear that these mystery killings might be the first tangible signs of a mounting Shia-Sunni civil war. The recent assassinations of Shiite cleric Qassim al-Gharawi and Sunni cleric Quraish Abdul Jabbar only stoke those nightmares. To further aggravate matters, Saddam’s Ba’ath Party is experiencing a political resurgence, capitalizing on the deepening disorder and instability. Some experts go so far as to speculate that the Ba’athists have effectively taken over leadership of the insurgency, pushing aside religious fundamentalists and tribal warlords.

This dance of death elicits only gaseous platitudes from the Bush administration. “There needs to continue to be some momentum in the political process,” said Condi Rice, one of the chief architects of this morass, as she concluded a one-day visit to Iraq.

Urging the new government in Baghdad to more aggressively reach out to dissident Sunnis, Rice said, “The Iraqis . . . are now going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.”

That’s pretty cute from a U.S. administration that openly disdained any political process in dealing with pre-invasion Iraq and rushed everyone into the perfectly disastrous war now before us.

This administration bears heavy moral responsibilities for unleashing this whirlwind of death and destruction. But blaming Bush is not enough. The Iraqi people have been pushed to the precipice by our policy. Saying it’s wrong is not enough. Saying we should pull out our troops and let the Iraqis work it out among themselves is as empty a platitude as Condi’s.

There is, unfortunately, no evidence whatsoever that if the U.S. troops were pulled out tomorrow, the car bombings and murders of civilians would magically cease. Much more likely, the already horrible situation we have created would only get worse.

The current, tenuous, incomplete and partial political process and the weak unrepresentative government now sitting in Baghdad would be immediately stamped out and replaced by an obscurantist dictatorship — a regime run by the same people who today think nothing of detonating bombs in the middle of marketplaces.

That doesn’t leave us a lot of options, does it? The Bush administration has plunged us and the Iraqi people into a well of blood a half-trillion dollars deep. The White House offers no answers except vows to stay the course while it prays it can get to the midterm elections without an apocalyptic meltdown in Iraq. The administration lacks the moral courage to even publicly ponder a way to finance this war, instead charging it off to some revolving future account.

The Not in Our Name crap won’t cut it either, when it is precisely in our name that this conflict continues and deepens. We don’t atone for the sins of the Bush administration by abandoning the Iraqi people and pretending that the “resistance” that would come to power is anything but fascist.

So we know what we can’t and shouldn’t do. We can’t stay the course and maintain a status quo that slips every moment closer to a bloodbath. But we can’t simply walk away from the conflagration we have started, hoping it will just burn itself out.

I’m sorry to confess that I have no easy third alternative to stamp onto some bumper stickers. I don’t know who does.

LA Weekly