- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

LONDON — 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 yesterday.

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, BBC reported.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was department policy not to comment on leaked documents but acknowledged that Mr. 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 Mr. 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.”

Mr. 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 Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

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

Yesterday, hundreds of Sheik al-Sadr’s followers left the southern city of Basra to join a rally in Baghdad condemning Israeli attacks on Lebanon. The militia youths left on 20 buses plastered with pictures of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

In violence yesterday, a bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded in the center of Baghdad, killing at least 12 persons, police said. At least 13 others were killed or found dead in various parts of the country.

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

Mr. Patey’s concerns echo the assessment of 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,” Mr. Greenstock told British television channel ITV1’s Jonathan Dimbleby show.

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