Another British memo belies Bush on Iraq

A confidential memo from the outgoing British ambassador in Iraq warns that the war-torn country is likely headed for civil war.

Published August 3, 2006 3:39PM (EDT)

It was little surprise that President Bush, during a recent press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House, stood at the podium with a straight face and suggested once again that "a new democracy is emerging" in Iraq. Even as plans were in progress to deploy thousands more U.S. troops to Baghdad, Bush sounded an optimistic note. "No question it's tough in Baghdad, and no question it's tough in other parts of Iraq," he admitted. "But there are also places where progress is being made, and the prime minister and I talked about that progress."

It's unclear whether Bush has compared notes of late with Tony Blair. Bush's closest ally was warned recently by his outgoing ambassador to Baghdad that civil war is more likely the endgame in Iraq -- with the British ambassador noting that even Bush's diminished goals for the security and autonomy of the war-ravaged country may be out of reach.

"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," William Patey, who departed from the Iraqi capital last week, wrote in a confidential diplomatic telegram to Blair that was obtained by the BBC. "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."

That message was echoed by a top U.S. general today. "Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular," Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

Judging by the pace of the killings there during the last few weeks alone, the country is already well on its way.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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