The price we are paying for George W. Bush’s unnecessary and illegal war in Iraq keeps rising: The number of Americans killed in the war has now passed the 1,000 mark. And the price will keep rising until Washington accepts the fact that this is a war we cannot win–and that by trying to win it, we are only further radicalizing the Iraqi people and giving life to Islamic extremists by handing them the cause of Iraqi nationalism.

The Bush Administration had hoped that the transfer of power to the interim Allawi government would quell the opposition and set the stage for elections in January. But it has become increasingly clear that the Allawi regime lacks the legitimacy and support to stabilize the country. It has also become clear that America’s military presence continues to serve as a catalyst and rallying cry for a growing number of disaffected Iraqi citizens.

Indeed, since the “handover of sovereignty” at the end of June the resistance has grown in intensity and sophistication–August was the bloodiest month of the occupation, with 2,700 attacks on US troops and 1,100 soldiers wounded–and has come from more sectors of Iraqi society, both Sunni and Shiite. Reconstruction in many parts of the country has ground to a halt, and the last fifty or so international aid agencies operating in Iraq are said to be likely to leave, following the abduction of two Italian aid workers. At the same time, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has told the Security Council that the violence in Iraq could make it more difficult to go ahead with the planned elections.

Faced with this situation, the Allawi government and American military commanders have had no choice but to effectively cede more and more areas to various resistance groups, including the cities of Ramadi, Falluja, Baquba and Samarra. They have been forced to do so not just to avoid American casualties but to avoid further inflaming Iraqi opinion, particularly over military actions in or near Islamic holy sites.

At this point, there is no military solution in Iraq. Nor is there a political solution as long as the American military presence and intentions remain the issue. Confronted with these realities, supporters of the war have argued that we must nonetheless soldier on through the bad times; otherwise, the argument goes, Iraq will be reduced to chaos and will become a breeding ground for terrorism and Islamic extremism. But Iraq is already a breeding ground for terrorism and is nearing chaos, with more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians dead, not to mention the many thousands more without jobs or basic services.

A continued American occupation will only accelerate that disintegration by further fusing Islamic radicalism with the cause of nationalism–not just in Iraq but throughout the region. In that sense, Iraq is not a quagmire; it is, rather, a massive explosion that threatens to destroy much of the political fabric of the region and with it any prospect for real peace and political reform.

We urge political and other leaders to join us in calling for Washington to begin to withdraw US forces and to renounce any interest in maintaining military bases or in exercising control over Iraq’s economy and oil resources, instead leaving the future of Iraq to the Iraqi people. Contrary to the views of those perpetuating the occupation, US disengagement from Iraq would not be a victory for terrorism or jihadism but for international law and the principle of popular sovereignty.

In going to war, many people in and around this Administration underestimated the power of nationalism and overestimated the power of the United States to shape the future of another people. In deciding whether to stay, they should not make the same mistake.