A recently released internal staff report titled "Provincial Stability Assessment," and compiled by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation and says that Iraq is undergoing a de facto partitioning along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Contradicting recent statements by Bush’s administration officials, the 10 pages report says that the overall stability of 6 of Iraq’s 18 provinces is "serious" and one "critical."
The report provided by The New York Times underscores the changes Iraq has undergone since March 2003 invasion to topple its former leader Saddam Hussein.
It also warns that sectarian and ethnic frictions have become entrenched in many regions, even those provinces American officials refer to as nonviolent.
The document, the first of its kind, also raises concern over growing power of Iraq’s Shia parties, backed by neighbouring Iran and many of whom were aided by the U.S. government to get a share of the power.
Daniel Speckhard, a U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, and responsible for overseeing reconstruction efforts, described the report as a baseline assessment for bleak conditions new reconstruction firms would face in many of Iraq provinces, added The New York Times, which was handed a copy of the report by a government official who stated that the confidential assessment stands as the most realistic gauge of stability in Iraq than any other portrayals by U.S. politicians and military officials.
The report also refered to Arab-Kurdish fault line in the north as a major concern, with the two ethnicities struggling for power in Mosul, where violence is rampant, and Kirkuk, where oil fields are of a crucial importance for jump-starting economic growth in the war-torn country.
The document, the writers of which included officials from the American Embassy's political branch, reconstruction agencies and the American military command in Baghdad who received information from State Department officers in the provinces, is part of a periodic briefing on Iraq presented to the U.S. Congress by the State Department that has been shown to officials on Capitol Hill, as well as those responsible for budgeting for the reconstruction work in Iraq.
The government official who passed the paper on to The New York Times had always opposed the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq and the way the war is being conducted.
It is noteworthy that the report, dated Jan. 31, 2006, was prepared three weeks before February 22 attack on a revered Shia shrine in Samarra, in which dozens were killed and wounded, setting off reprisals that claimed the lives of more people and damaged about 10 mosques across the country.
The report stands in sharp contrast to the optimistic and rosy picture usually presented by the U.S. President and members of his administration.
Last week, President Bush repeated same rhetoric, claiming that his strategy in Iraq was proving successful despite the noticeable surge of violence there.
Recently, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a senior military spokesman in Baghdad, claimed that 12 of 18 provinces experienced "less than two attacks a day."
Also speaking on March 5 on an NBC News program, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repeated similar claims, saying that Iraq war was "going very, very well".
The report rated oil-rich Basra Province’s stability as "serious."
It defines "serious" as having "a government that is not fully formed or cannot serve the needs of its residents; economic development that is stagnant with high unemployment, and a security situation marked by routine violence, assassinations and extremism."
There is a "high level of militia activity including infiltration of local security forces," the report says. "Smuggling and criminal activity continues unabated. Intimidation attacks and assassination are common."
Stability at Anbar province, usually referred to as “the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency”, is rated as "critical."
The six provinces categorized as "serious" are Basra, Baghdad, Diyala and three others to the north, according to the report, while eight provinces are deemed "moderate", and the three Kurdish provinces are rated as "stable."
In the northern Babil Province, the report says, there is "strong Iranian influence apparent within council," adding that there is ethnic conflict in the strategic province where crimes are rampant.
Also in Babil, "unemployment remains high," the report adds.
The report's most surprising assessments are of those nine southern provinces, where none are rated "stable," contradicting what President Bush always claimed; that there is relative lack of violence in those regions.