Hanging on to a United Iraq Which Is Slipping Away

Two top Bush administration officials, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice arrived unannounced in Baghdad April 27, to get together with all seven members of the new Iraqi leadership – from president to party heads.

“They are serious people and they recognize the difficulties of the task they are facing” – was Rumsfeld’s verdict.

“They intend to get about the tasks of governing this country in a responsible way,” he added.

Rice called the new leadership “determined and focused.” Regarding the designated prime minister, the Shiite Jawad al Maliki, she said: “We know that he’s not always agreed with us, or we with him. But he is somebody who has always had the interests of the Iraqis at heart and who has worked hard on their behalf.”

When the secretary of state left Baghdad, she left a senior aide, Jim Wilkinson, behind to help al-Maliki organize his staff and operations.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources, the problem confronting Washington in Baghdad today is not how “determined and focused” their new leaders may be, but a far more profound difficulty.

Whereas within the Green Zone of Baghdad, the seven Iraqi leaders talked to their two American personages about forming a government “that really has a claim to the name national” – outside, a process is advancing that is more akin to the lebanonization of Iraq than its unification. Sector after sector, district after district, street after street, are slipping away to Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish control.

Sometimes, the fragmentation is quick and violent, performed by one of the sectarian militias, sometimes, houses are emptied by their occupants when they are forced to move to other places and and live with members of their own community.

This is going on in Baghdad and nearly every mixed Iraqi city.

The situation in Kirkuk, the northern oil city, was revealed by the Washington Post on April 25 as a new Iraqi flashpoint. Small knots of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr‘s Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization are described as moving into the city, determined to stop Kurds seizing Shiite homes in the course of their drive to reinstate hundreds of thousands of their kinsmen driven out of the city by Saddam Hussein.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in northern Iraq report that the two Shiite militias have been joined in Kirkuk by a flock of paramilitary groups, led by the Shiite Dawa, which happens to be the party of the prime minister-designate, who has publicly committed himself to Iraq’s integrity.

This dichotomy is symbolic of the gap between the Green Zone and the rest of the country. While high-powered American officials fly into Baghdad and busy themselves with the effort to assemble a government that represents and imposes national unity, the forces behind the politicians are just as busy driving wedges to divide the communities and making sure their political leaders can never work together.

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