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Mr. Pollack, who does not consider himself a pessimist on Iraq, said the historical record on civil wars around the globe shows that about half repeat themselves.

“So it is a huge mistake to assume it can’t” happen in Iraq, whose civil strife in 2005-07 was so violent that many Americans assumed the war was lost and thought U.S. troops should give up and go home.

Mr. Pollack considers the State Department ill-suited for its new tasks — starting with the police training mission and including the complex developmental problems such as improving Iraq’s water system.

“What the State Department is being asked to do isn’t in their DNA,” Mr. Pollack said.

The department has been strongly criticized for its past work in Iraqi police training. An October 2007 report by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr. said the State Department had so badly managed a February 2004 contract for Iraqi police training that the department could not tell what it got for the $1.2 billion it spent.

In May 2004, President George W. Bush put the Pentagon in charge of all security-force development.

The newly departed U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Christopher Hill, says he sees brighter days ahead for Iraq, but he also laments “woefully low” supplies of electricity and deeply ingrained tensions among the three main competitors for political power: Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

“There is a mountain of mistrust,” Mr. Hill said.

The diplomats’ postwar task would have been much easier if, as the administration once hoped, Iraq had formed a new government by now, nearly six months after its March 7 national elections.

Instead, the political stalemate — with no end in sight — has created another hurdle to the central U.S. goal in Iraq: translating hard-fought security gains into stability.