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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Private pessimism on Iraq grows
In a confidential memo, the outgoing UK ambassador in Iraq, William Patey, has warned that civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy. The BBC's defence correspondent Paul Wood assesses the ambassador's remarks and the current situation in Baghdad.

Waiting for an American military helicopter, I got chatting to the man next to me. His business card said he was an adviser on "strategic message" for the coalition.

An Iraqi mother grieves after the violent death of her child
Every day brings more anguish to Iraq

"Casey won't get out in front and sell this war," he told me, "because he doesn't want to go down in history as another Westmoreland."

He was comparing Gen George Casey, head of the multi-national force in Iraq, to America's ill-fated commander in Vietnam, Gen William Westmoreland.

As a private comment from one of the officials in charge of the image of this war, no less, it was highly revealing. Similarly revealing was the leak two months ago of a confidential memo from the US ambassador in Iraq.

It sometimes feels as if Baghdad is descending into madness

Now the British government's confidential briefings on Iraq have been leaked too - and they are markedly at odds with the official line.

William Patey's telegram does not depart from the official formula that civil war is neither imminent nor inevitable. But he does say it is probably the more likely outcome, at this stage, along with the break-up of Iraq.

Even what he witheringly refers to as President Bush's lowered expectations for Iraq - of a government that can sustain and defend itself - must "remain in doubt".

Reality

To be fair to the British ambassador, he does write that the situation is not hopeless, but he warns that the next five to 10 years will be "messy and difficult". No wonder he describes himself as a pessimist on Iraq.

These thoughts have gone to the UK prime minister, foreign secretary, defence secretary, and senior military commanders.

Bus burned out by a roadside bomb in Beiji
It is becoming more difficult to sustain a message of hope

But the judgment that the Iraqi government cannot defend itself, still less defend Iraqis, only reflects the reality on the ground.

It sometimes feels as if Baghdad is descending into madness. Over the past seven days, within sight of our bureau, we have seen a simultaneous suicide, rocket and mortar attack and a car bombing.

Last night in Baghdad, a bomb was planted under a football pitch to kill children as they played.

Sectarianism spreads

An Iraqi man, Ahmed Muktar, told me a typical story of these times. His family fled sectarian violence in the suburb of Dora. But his brother-in-law returned to check on his house. He was kidnapped.

The police, the hospitals, the morgues - none had any official record of the missing man. So his family went to the dumping ground for bodies on the edge of Dora.

Iraqis shout in support of a plan to set up neighbourhood self-defence committees
Anger prompts more Iraqis to take matters into their own hands

There they found him, amid a pile of 50 corpses, hands tied behind his back, shot in the head.

They had to recover him while under constant automatic fire, the police and troops nearby too scared to help.

Mr Muktar is an academic with the rather unlikely specialism in the minor Scottish poets. He is a civilised, gentle man, but - as a Shia - he says his family now rejoice in the deaths of Sunnis.

All of this is why the coalition - quite at odds with the stated strategy - is about to massively reinforce Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Shias like Mr Muktar are turning to the so-called popular committees for self-defence now being formed in Baghdad.

That is another reason to worry, as ambassador Patey does, that civil war is the likely outcome in Iraq.


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