Wednesday, September 27, 2006

U.S. general warns that Iraq is close to dissolving into civil war

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A top-ranked U.S. military officer in Iraq said Wednesday that the United States thought that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki was running out of time to prevent Iraq from dissolving into outright civil war.

"We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraq's security forces. But I have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," said Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-highest-ranking American military official in Baghdad.

Chiarelli's comments to a gathering of reporters were a part of a growing chorus of concerns from U.S. political and military leaders about the Iraqi government's ability and willingness to tackle corruption and militia-run death squads. They suggest that top American leaders are growing frustrated with the pace of reforms and may even be starting to argue for eventual U.S. withdrawal.

Throughout the month, senior military officials - almost always speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject - have expressed frustration with the government, saying corruption and rogue militias backed by rebel Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr are rampant. They've complained of ministers using their offices to fill the coffers of their political parties and of government workers using their jobs to attack rival sects. They said the Iraqi government turned a blind eye, embracing a sectarian winner-take-all approach to governance.

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