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Iraq Faces Disintegration According to British Think Tank

Iraq is beset by, not one, but numerous civil wars and insurgencies, society is breaking down increasingly along ethnic and sectarian lines, and the central government is largely powerless and ineffective. That is the assessment of a report issued by the prestigious Chatham House research center in London. VOA's Sonja Pace has details from the British capital.

The report is titled, Accepting Realities in Iraq, and it portrays an Iraq wracked by civil wars and violence and beset by a breakdown of the society's fabric and social cohesion.

The manager of the Middle East program at Chatham House, Michael Lowe, tells VOA the various strategies set out by both Britain and the United States have not worked, including the current U.S. military surge.

"This is partly because there is not a clear and honest acceptance and understanding of the very harsh realities, which are current in Iraq, chiefly of the level of breakdown of Iraqi society, the regionalization of the country and the sheer number of conflicts going," said Lowe. "There is not one civil war, there are at least seven, if not eight, wars taking place in Iraq today."

There are differing views on the situation in Iraq. Speaking in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said he is encouraged by political and security developments. He said there has been no reversion to widespread sectarian violence and political leaders are working hard to resolve contentious issues.

During a joint news conference with President Bush in Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair looked for the upbeat.

"There are the majority elements in each of the main communities, whether Sunni or Shia or Kurd, who actually want to live in peace with one another and want a future for that country that is not marred by terrorism and sectarianism, and we of course want to see that happen in the interest of that country and the interest of the stability of the wider region and the world," said Blair.

But, the Chatham House report leaves little room for optimism. It says that while the number of civilian deaths in Baghdad has dropped since the military surge, the activities of al Qaida and other groups have continued unabated and violence in other parts of Iraq has increased.

Another reality mentioned by Chatham House is the shift of power away from the central government to the regions and a society increasingly fragmented along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Robert Lowe says the argument can be made that Iraq has already broken up.

"The Iraqi government carries little authority outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, huge swathes of Iraqi territory are effectively run by local powers, whoever holds military and indeed economic power in specific localities, whether it be in Basra in the very south or in the Kurdistan region on the very north," he added. "Because of the breakdown of Iraqi society and the polarization of identities, whether they are sectarian or ethnic, power in Iraq is now devolved to the regions and this has left the country fragmented and perhaps even shattered."

Lowe says it is unclear whether that fragmentation can be turned around.

The Chatham House report, written by Middle East expert Gareth Stansfield, says these harsh realities must be accepted if efforts to avert the failure and collapse of Iraq are to have any chance of success.

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