Iraq now on the brink of break-up, warn diplomats
Western officials fear Iraq is facing imminent break-up, as the jihadist take-over of the north seeks to carve the country into religious fiefdoms.
Using their strongest language to date, diplomats warned that the "sheer scale" of the crisis could defeat efforts by the country's fractious politicians to resolve it.
"We have used the word crisis about Iraq before, but this is the real thing," a Western diplomat said yesterday ..
"There is no doubt about the scale of the threat that it poses to Iraq's continued existence as a state, and it is also a threat to the wider region too."
The diplomat also voiced doubts about the ability of Iraq's politicians, including Nouri al-Maliki, the country's Shia prime minister, to bury sectarian differences.
While John Kerry, the US secretary of state, warned on Monday that greater unity was the only way to stabilise the country, the diplomat said the politicians were "trapped in a pattern that was hard to break", adding:
"Iraq's political leaders now mostly realise the problems. But has it translated into action yet? It has not."
In a further sign of the West's lack of confidence in Mr Maliki's government, the diplomat disclosed that routine help for Iraq's counter-terrorism units was being limited because of "significant human rights concerns". He added that heavy-handed policing by Iraq's Shia-dominated security forces had led to "systematic alienation" of the Sunni minority. As a result, some Sunnis had actively helped the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) to take over the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. "Isis could not have done this on their own," he said.
The gloomy assessment of the chances of Iraq pulling back from the brink of civil war came in a day of see-saw gains and losses for security forces.
In the town of Baiji, 120 miles north of Baghdad, the Iraqi army repelled an assault on a major oil refinery by Isis. Government troops also claimed to have retaken a border crossing with Syria, and fended off an assault on the western town of Haditha, a Sunni insurgent haven during US occupation.
However, air strikes on Baiji town and the western border of Husseibah were said to have killed an unspecified number of civilians. The militants countered with mortar attacks on a large former American base in the town of Yathrib, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
They also skirmished with police around the villages in Diyala, a palm-groved farming province north-east of the capital that is home to a volatile mix of Sunnis and Shias.
An Isis claim to have kidnapped and killed Raouf Abdel-Rahman, the Iraqi judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death, was denied by the Iraqi government and a former colleague of the judge. The ex-colleague said: "Friends of mine say he is still alive and well and living at a high-security compound."
Meanwhile, the pressure on Mr Maliki continued, with one of the two main leaders of Iraq's semi-independent Kurdish north calling for him to step down.
Speaking during a visit to the region by Mr Kerry, President Massoud Barzani, said that Mr Maliki's "wrong policies" were to blame for the current crisis, and that it was "very difficult" to imagine Iraq staying together in its current form.
Mr Barzani's remarks will be taken as tacit confirmation that the Kurds will be unwilling to surrender their control of oil-rich city of Kirkuk, occupied by Kurdish Peshmerga forces two weeks ago when the Iraqi army deserted it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)