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Report: British diplomat warns of Iraq civil war

A confidential report from Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Iraq warned the country is sliding toward civil war and is likely to divide eventually along ethnic lines.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A confidential report from Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Iraq warned the country is sliding toward civil war and is likely to divide eventually along ethnic lines, according to a news report Thursday.

William Patey, who left his diplomatic post in Baghdad last week, predicted in the document that the situation in Iraq could remain volatile for the next decade, the British Broadcasting Corp. said.

The diplomat sent the memo to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and other leading legislators and military commanders, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was department policy not to comment on leaked documents, but acknowledged that Patey had put forth similar views in a radio interview last week.

“The prospect of a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy,” the BBC quoted Patey’s memo as saying.

“Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq — a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror — must remain in doubt.”

‘Position is not hopeless’
Patey’s diplomatic cable claims that Iraq’s “position is not hopeless,” but warns that the country is likely to remain “messy and difficult” for the next five to 10 years, the BBC said.

He also warned that to avoid a descent into civil war, there must be greater effort directed at policing militia groups, including the Mahdi Army, which is among the most feared armed groups in the country. It is led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“Preventing the Jaish al Mahdi from developing into a state with a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority,” Patey’s memo said, according to the BBC.

In an interview with BBC radio’s Today program last week, Patey said there was evidence of police collusion with death squads and militias, and that Iraqis had lost all confidence in law enforcement officers.

But the Foreign Office said Patey had also acknowledged at the time he did not feel any sense of “hopelessness or despair” about the future of Iraq and that he believed the Iraqi government was capable of improving conditions.

Process beginning
“Everyday the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to manage their own security is growing,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

She said the hand-over last month of the southern Muthana province from British troops to Iraqi forces was “the beginning of a process which will culminate in the Iraqis taking full command of their own destiny.”

Officials at Britain’s Defense Ministry have said the hand-overs of two more provinces are likely to take place within months.

However, the BBC said Patey’s memo cautioned against making any swift repatriation of troops, stressing that talk of pulling out of Iraq would weaken the position of coalition soldiers who remain.

Patey’s concerns echo the assessment of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who served as Britain’s ambassador to Iraq until 2004. In February, he said sectarian fighting had begun to resemble ethnic cleansing in some regions and warned central authorities were being ignored as communities sought protection from armed militias.

“One could almost call it a low-level civil war already,” Greenstock told British television channel ITV1’s Jonathan Dimbleby program.