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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Iraq plan 'fails to impress'
By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

A woman walks past a burnt vehicle after a gunbattle in Baghdad. File photo
Baghdad residents are now seeing violence on a daily basis
The political storm in Washington sparked by US journalist Bob Woodward's new book - which suggests President Bush is concealing the level of violence in Iraq - has not been reflected in Baghdad.

The reason is simple. Most people, even American officials, know how bad things are.

It is in Baghdad that the situation is worst and there is a sense of desperation in the Iraqi government's announcement of yet another plan to tackle the sectarian violence tearing the city apart.

This is the third security initiative the government has come up with for the capital since it took office just four months ago.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warns the government has just "two months" left to turn the tide.

'Too late'

But the bloodshed between the majority Shia and minority Sunni community has only got worse.

It's significant, but we're not seeing this as a turning point
US official

Each new murder, often involving sadistic torture, breeds the next, as relatives vow revenge.

More and more Iraqis fear it is now too late to prevent this widening spiral of killing becoming full blown civil war.

So, many gave little more than a weary shrug on hearing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new four-point initiative.

But even those welcoming the move were sceptical, saying they do not trust officials to implement it.

Plan 'unclear'

The cornerstone of the plan is local security committees in each district of the city, involving politicians, religious figures and Iraqi army and police officers.

Iraqis protests against recent killings in Baghdad on 3 October 2006
Violence has risen along with Sunni-Shia tensions

There will also be a body to oversee media reporting.

That is believed to be a response to some incendiary reports in some party-linked newspapers, accusing certain politicians of being involved in the violence.

Concerns about censorship are bound to be raised though.

However, many details of the plan remain unclear.

The government has not spelled out what powers these local committees will have, or what areas they will cover.

In fact, most neighbourhoods of Baghdad set up their own local security bodies some time ago to protect themselves - because they do not trust the authorities to look after them.

Death squads

It is a common sight around the city: vigilante-style armed guards at makeshift check-points, formed by tree stumps or concrete blocks.

A US soldier on patrol in Baghdad. File photo
More US troops have been deployed to curb violent attacks

In Sunni neighbourhoods, there is still deep distrust for the Shia-dominated police force.

Despite efforts to remove sectarian elements, many police units are still widely believed to be infiltrated by death squads, or at least colluding with them.

It is hard to see how these new committees will overcome such problems or attitudes.

Some Sunni leaders have welcomed the new plan, while warning that it is a last chance.

But other politicians - including from within the prime minister's Shia coalition - have denounced it as simple window-dressing, to dodge increasing US pressure on him.

US concerns

There is growing unease among US generals and diplomats here at what they believe is Mr Maliki's unwillingness to move against Shia militias.

While the US ambassador and the senior American military commander publicly welcomed the plan, privately US officials say they are not raising their hopes.

"It's significant, but we're not seeing this as a turning point", said one.

More and more communities in and around Baghdad are being dragged into the sectarian conflict.

The United Nations estimates that up to 9,000 people a week are now fleeing as a result.


This deterioration in the Baghdad region has continued despite the deployment of thousands of additional US troops.

Their operation, known as Together Forward, in conjunction with Iraqi police and army units, continues.

The next stage involves plans to build trenches around Baghdad to make it harder for insurgents and militia groups to get themselves and supplies in.

But no-one believes such a huge city can be sealed off.

And this operation also means the Americans are more exposed to attack. At least 15 soldiers and marines have been killed since Saturday, most in the Baghdad area.

In Washington, much has been made of Bob Woodward's statements that there are now 800-900 attacks a week.

In fact, such figures were already public.The Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution has published such statistics on its Iraq Index for some time.

The debate here is not over statistics or how bad things are. It is what to do about it before it is too late.

The answers seem to be running out.

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