Gloom as civil war looms

BAGHDAD — 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 US-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 Shiite 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 Maliki remains committed in public to the US-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 Shiite 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, multiethnic, religiously mixed state in its present form.

“The situation is terrifying and black,” said Rida Jawad  Takki, a senior member of parliament from Maliki’s dominant Shiite 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.”

Some Western diplomats in Baghdad say there is little sign the new government is capable of halting a slide to civil war.

“Maliki and some others seem to be genuinely trying to make this work,” one said. “But it doesn’t look like they have real support. The factions are looking out for their own interests.”  

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