Sunday, July 23, 2006
Iraq: "The situation is terrifying and black"
BAGHDAD, July 21 (Reuters) - Iraqi leaders have all but given up on holding the country together and, just two months after forming a national unity government, talk in private of "black days" of civil war ahead.
Signalling a dramatic abandonment of the U.S.-backed project for Iraq, there is even talk among them of pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim zones, senior officials told Reuters.
Tens of thousands have already fled homes on either side.
"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said -- anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.
One highly placed source even spoke of busying himself on government projects, despite a sense of their futility, only as a way to fight his growing depression over his nation's future.
"The parties have moved to Plan B," the senior official said, saying Sunni, ethnic Kurdish and majority Shi'ite blocs were looking at ways to divide power and resources and to solve the conundrum of Baghdad's mixed population of seven million.
"There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into east and west," he said. "We are extremely worried."
On the eve of the first meeting of a National Reconciliation Commission and before Maliki meets President George W. Bush in Washington next week, other senior politicians also said they were close to giving up on hopes of preserving the 80-year-old, multi-ethnic, religiously mixed state in its present form.
"The situation is terrifying and black," said Rida Jawad al -Takki, a senior member of parliament from Maliki's dominant Shi'ite Alliance bloc, and one of the few officials from all the main factions willing to speak publicly on the issue.
"We have received information of a plan to divide Baghdad. The government is incapable of solving the situation," he said.
As sectarian violence has mounted to claim perhaps 100 lives a day and tens of thousands flee their homes, a senior official from the once dominant Sunni minority concurred: "Everyone knows the situation is very bad," he said. "I'm not optimistic."
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