To reverse a disastrous slump in his approval ratings due to his Iraq policy, U.S. President George W. Bush told Americans last week that if U.S. troops were not fighting the terrorists on foreign soil they would be fighting them on American soil. Bush and his advisers must have been alarmed as approval ratings for their Iraq policy drop from 77% just two years ago to 48% today.

As he is in the midst of a war for which no one can say with certainty his troops will win, the president has a right to go to the American people now to muster their support. But the U.S. must understand that winning Iraqi hearts and minds is crucial for victory, and it is regrettable that Mr. Bush’s speech did nothing to boost Iraqi backing for his troops’ presence on their soil.

Iraqis are clever and very far sighted. The last thing they want to hear is the American leader say that their country has been chosen merely as an arena for fighting anti-U.S. terrorists, rather that fighting them somewhere else.

When Mr. Bush sent his troops to invade Iraq, many Iraqis thought of them as liberators. There were scenes of jubilation when the troops landed in Iraq. Iraqis were happy because they had confidence in President Bush. They really believed he would turn their country into an oasis of democracy, peace and prosperity.

But in his speech, Mr. Bush makes all Iraqis scapegoats of his war on terror by telling his own people and the world that he chose Iraq as the central battlefield for this war. So U.S. troops are in Iraq to settle scores with enemies they do not want to fight in America or anywhere else but in Iraq.Iraqis did not hear this from President Bush two years ago.

While Iraqis are not so much concerned about whether their former dictator had weapons of mass destruction, they cannot allow their soil to be turned into a bloody battle arena between the country possessing the world’s most destructive military machine and terrorists with no mercy.

To Iraqi eyes, President Bush’s address, during which he described Iraq as an arena where his generals can practice their skills for hunting terrorists was a disaster. To say that U.S. troops are fighting terrorists on Iraqi soil instead of fighting them on American soil turns all Iraqis into victims, either of the United States or of the terrorists.

It is no wonder, then, that the U.S. has forgotten all about reconstruction, instead focusing its attention on how to defeat the enemies it has created, particularly among Arabs and Muslims, in a place that had nothing at all to do with so-called anti-U.S. terrorism. Now we understand why reconstruction is lagging in violence-hit places like Baghdad, for example.

But there are relatively peaceful and quiet spots in Iraq, like the captial of eastern Wasit Province, Kut. If the U.S. was serious about bringing prosperity to the country, it should have rebuilt places like Wasit by repairing and modernizing its infrastructure and beginning the comprehensive economic development of the area.

But Iraq is no longer a place to be rebuilt and modernized. According to Mr. Bush, it is just an arena where the U.S. has chosen to fight its enemies at the expense of the Iraqi people.