The level of violence in some areas of Iraq is worsening dramatically and US forces may soon be asked to leave by the Iraqi Government.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian, former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has given a gloomy assessment of the situation.
“The British used to make a big deal of walking around in their berets in the south,” he said. “Now they won’t even go to the latrines without their helmets. The south has got much rougher, it’s mainly Shia on Shia violence.”
Mr Armitage said much of the violence came from differences over how the Islamic religion should be interpreted.
And he said he believed the Iraqis would soon ask the US to leave their country.
The most optimistic scenario following a US withdrawal would be that Iraq would become a loose federation — although the term federation would not be used because it upsets neighbouring Turkey — with a weak central government.
“The difficulty then will be to stop them (the Iraqis) causing violence for their neighbours,” Mr Armitage said.
This was because almost all of Iraq’s neighbours had restive Shia minorities and the governments of both Iraq and Iran would come under pressure to intervene on their behalf.
Mr Armitage believed the Shi’ites and Sunnis had not sated their appetite for violence against each other. But there were signs of the essential compromises necessary to make Iraq stable in the negotiations taking place inside the new Iraqi Government.
Mr Armitage said he hoped there could be a draw-down of US and other coalition troops in Iraq in the next 12 to 18 months.
Although George W. Bush had a good week, with the death of al-Qa’ida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and progress with the Iraqi Government , Mr Armitage believes Iraq is still a big drag on Republicans.
He said “many Republicans are running away from the President” as they prepared for the forthcoming mid-term congressional elections.
Mr Armitage was equally gloomy about Afghanistan, especially in the south, where violence was worsening and Australia was deploying a new provincial reconstruction team. “It’ll be heavy lifting for them,” he said. “Five years after the overthrow of the Taliban, the ordinary people don’t see much change in their lives.”
Several factors were driving the renewed violence in Afghanistan including drugs which provided money for numerous warlords.
“At the same time, some in Pakistan may believe that the Taliban may come back. The Talibs also see us handing over to NATO and they see some NATO countries as weaker than us.”
But Mr Armitage identified the US-Australian alliance as one of the success stories in Bush foreign policy. He paid the ultimate compliment to the Australian Prime Minister: “Howard got everything he wanted.
Armitage’s comments may be no more than an empty promise. In effect, he’s offering false hopes in an effort to stem rising anti war sentiment.
And he knows it.
The giweaway that Armitage is not being entirely honest comes toward the end of the article when Armitage reflects on Afghanistan. Although careful not attribute any quote to him specifically in regard to drugs, the article notes