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Sabrin al-Janabi, about 50 years old, last week became another symbol of the occupation in Iraq. She was raped. In a state in which there is only precise data on the occupier, while "data on locals" is usually reported wholesale ("half a million killed," "hundreds of thousands of families uprooted"), there is something very novel when the rape victim has a name, age and address, and she appears in the media.

This is because al-Janabi was raped - according to the anti-American press, or was not raped, according to the newspapers that support the continued American presence - by a police force of the Iraqi Interior Ministry during an action designed to implement the new "security plan" devised with the Americans. Thus, alongside the fierce public dispute over the question of whether the rape actually occurred, this incident has generated an even stronger dispute over the question of how much confidence the Iraqis can place in the new efforts to impose order in the state. Behold, the opponents argue, even this security plan, whose brutality is acknowledged by all, has so far contributed this act of rape, a terrible injury not only to al-Janabi, but also to the entire Iraqi "nation."

This rape has thus become a symbol of the new stage in the occupation, a stage in which the hope for calm suffers a strong blow - and not from the terrorists and insurgents, but from those who are supposed to be fighting them. All of this is happening precisely when international players like Britain, Romania and Italy are starting to announce plans to withdraw their forces from Iraq. Only the United States, which still comprises 85 percent of the multinational force, and the government of Iraq operating under its patronage remain to "bear the blame."

But the U.S., where Congress has already had its say about sending additional troops, is looking for ways to escape. The U.S. is increasingly ready to let anyone willing to buy a stake in Iraq partake of this honor. Just hurry up. Iran, for example, is an almost natural candidate to take over custody of Iraq. Syria has become a welcome guest among the Iraqis, and Saudi Arabia is looking after the Sunni minority as best it can. Iraq is also begetting strange political mutations: Saudi Arabia and Iran are collaborating with Turkey to prevent Iraq from totally disintegrating. The reason for this is that these countries, like the Iraqis themselves, and apparently the U.S. as well, realize that the latter will not be able to do more than it has already done, and therefore, an alternative regional custodianship should be formed in its place: Arab-Muslim, Sunni and Shi'ite.

But this is not an isolated American failure. The war in Iraq has hurt the U.S. far beyond this. There is no conflict in the Middle East today in which it is possible to cite the U.S. as the most important player, capable of bringing about a solution. It is not a party to what is taking place in Lebanon, it is leaving Saudi Arabia and Iran to handle it. It made a quick pass through Jerusalem and Ramallah, mumbling something about the road map. And in Iraq, as noted, it is looking for active partners who will take over the business for it. The U.S. retains the important task of addressing Iran, where it also plays a strictly threatening role now, yet finds it difficult to project deterrence. The feeling is that the war in Iraq has emasculated its readiness to embark on another military adventure.

There is someone who is already exploiting the American vacuum in the region. Vladimir Putin is the new bird hovering in this corpse-laden region. He received a particularly warm reception in Saudi Arabia, where he also received concessions for drilling oil. He will welcome Khaled Meshal this week to discuss the Mecca document with him. He holds the right of veto for imposing sanctions on Iran and he is also the one whose word strongly resonates in Damascus. Russia, whose forces are not participating in the occupation of Iraq, will also apparently be - directly or via Iran - the most influential superpower in Iraq when the other forces are evacuated. After all, Russia did not "rape" Iraq. Sabrin al-Jabarin is the symbol of American "rape," not Russian.