Squabbling politicians 'frittered away' chance of stability

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The Independent Online

The opportunity created by the success of January's election in Iraq has been "frittered away", a leading academic said last week, as the Pentagon admitted that insurgent attacks are running at the same level as a year ago.

The opportunity created by the success of January's election in Iraq has been "frittered away", a leading academic said last week, as the Pentagon admitted that insurgent attacks are running at the same level as a year ago.

Although Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq's prime minister-designate, finally announced on Thursday that he had formed an administration, nearly three months of wrangling has allowed the insurgents to regain the initiative, according to Toby Dodge, of Queen Mary, University of London. He was one of a group of academics who went to Downing Street in November 2002 to warn Tony Blair about the difficulties and dangers of occupying Iraq.

"The election was a huge success, but the opportunity it created has been frittered away in the politics of personal gain and internecine squabbling," said Dr Dodge. "The insurgents were on the back foot after seeing six and a half million people turn out to vote, but during the three-month interregnum they were able to construct a story that the whole exercise had been organised by the Americans, and have gone back on the offensive."

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted last week that attacks on coalition forces, after dropping to around 45 a day in the wake of the election, were back to about 60, similar to the average during 2004. "Where they [the insurgents] are right now is where they were almost a year ago," he said, although the violence was "nowhere near" the peaks seen during surges of fighting in places such as Najaf and Fallujah.

Dr Dodge, whose paper on Iraq's future was published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London last week, said that by far the largest proportion of the insurgents came from the remnants of Saddam Hussein's security services. Despite the publicity given to al-Qa'ida and its self-proclaimed leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, even the US army numbered his followers at no more than 500 to 2,000, compared with its estimate thatat least 20,000 fighters were taking part in the insurgency.

The fastest-growing element in the resistance to the occupation, he added, were indigenous radical Islamists, both Sunni and Shia, who saw themselves as defending their homeland against non-Islamic invaders.

Asked at the Pentagon last week whether "we are winning" the war, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, replied obliquely, saying: "The United States and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency ... The people that are going to defeat that insurgency are going to be the Iraqis."

Dr Dodge said Mr Jaafari and other politicians would have to talk to Sunni and Shia radicals to achieve stability, even though negotiations would be extremely difficult. But instead he saw politicians using the sectarian issue "as a bargaining chip and for political advantage", which was "rankly irresponsible", because it could set off a slide into civil war.

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