Britain's ambassador to Baghdad has warned government ministers that a civil war in Iraq is more likely than a successful transition to democracy
William Patey also predicted the division of Iraq along ethnic lines, in a confidential memo addressed to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defense Secretary and senior military leaders.
Patey's warning was contained in his final diplomatic cable, leaked to the BBC, before leaving office last week, the BBC reported.
"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," Patey wrote.
"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."
Patey also said that although situation was "not hopeless" he believed Iraq would remain "messy and difficult" for five to 10 years.
He warned that preventing the Jaish al Mahdi Shiite militia from developing a state within a state was a key priority in avoiding a "descent into civil war and anarchy."
The leak comes amid a fresh wave of violence in Iraq with 12 people killed overnight on Wednesday. Earlier in the day 12 people also died when two bombs exploded inside a soccer stadium. (Full story)
Speaking at his monthly Downing Street press conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the UK would not be deterred in its mission to help bring stability to Iraq. (Full story)
"The purpose [of sectarian violence] is to put extremists in charge of countries rather than those committed to democracy," said Blair.
"What should our response be? However difficult it is, we will stay the course, stand up for those people who want democracy, stand for those people who are fighting sectarianism, stand up for a different vision of the Middle East based on democracy, liberty and the rule of law.
Patey's comments were echoed on Thursday by the top American military commander in the Middle East.
Gen. John Abizaid, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had "rarely seen" the Middle East "so unsettled and so volatile."
Asked about the chances that Iraq will slide toward civil war, he said, "I believe that the sectarian violence is as probably bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."
Appearing with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Abizaid said the "failure to apply coordinated regional and international pressure" to deal with the problems "will further extremism" and could lead to a widening and more perilous conflict.
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