Stark realities in Iraq exposed in a new report

A new, very bleak report from Chatham House, the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs. Among its stark conclusions:

Continuing attempts to form a strong unified government in Baghdad are an exercise in futility. "Iraq" says the report "has fractured into regional power bases". Across "huge swathes of territory" decisions made by Iraqi leaders in the Green zone are largely irrelevant. The al-Maliki regime is merely one of several 'state-like actors' that now exist in Iraq." Key economic and security decisions are no longer made in Baghdad but by local sectarian, ethnic or tribal groups--whoever is currently on top in a particular city or district. Many of the major centers "have become lawless theaters of inter-and intra sectarian and inter-ethnic violent combat." "It can be argued that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the district possibility of collapse and fragmentation."

The much vaunted surge has not reduced violence and deaths. If anything, the number of killings across the country has only increased. In fact, in some ways, the surge in Baghdad has made things worse: the withdrawal of large numbers of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia from Sadr City has allowed Sunni insurgents to increase their bloody attacks there. At the same time, insurgents are zeroing in on other more vulnerable parts of the country. There is not one civil war in Iraq but many; not one insurgency but many. Shiites are at war with Sunnis, at the same time as leaders of each sect battle ferociously for power and turf among themselves. Add to this a "rampant criminality across the country." Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda continues to expand its operations throughout the Centre and North. The thought that it could be defeated by tribal groups or other insurgents is a pipe dream. Return to any semblance of order will take many years--not months. Yet without U.S. Forces in the country, there is no way that Iraq's fledgling security services could cope with the current level of violence.

At the same time, because of a perfect storm of onrushing issues--such as possible American troop withdrawals and the battle over the petroleum law--2007 and 2008 promise to generate even more climactic bloodshed and violence. Though the Kurdish region has been relatively calm, the potential for sectarian strife is looming: Kurds and Arabs are heading for a showdown over control of the huge petroleum wealth around Kirkuk. - "The most capable foreign power in Iraq, in terms of influencing future events, is not the U.S. It is Iran."

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