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Americans warned of looming 'civil war'

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

21 April 2004

Mistakes made by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war, according to a confidential memo written by a US official working for the American-led body.

The memo, provided to a Washington-based freelance journalist by a Western intelligence official, contradicts the pronouncements made by President Bush and senior officials such as the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who last week insisted America "must not waiver" in regard to Iraq.

"The CPA handles an issue like a six-year-old playing soccer," says the memo, written last month by the US official for his boss, a senior CPA director. "Someone kicks the ball and 100 people chase after it hoping to be noticed without a care as to what happens on the field."

Last week in a press conference Mr Bush portrayed a different vision of what was happening in Iraq. Mr Bush admitted that the past month - the worst for US casualties - had been a "tough, tough, tough series of weeks". But he added: "We're doing the right thing."

Such a view is not shared by the unnamed author of the March memo. Although a supporter of the operation to oust Saddam Hussein, the official claims that actions by the CPA have encouraged corruption. It claims the authority is helping drive the black market in illegal weapons because Iraqi police are selling their guns knowing they will be resupplied.

The memo is scathing in regard to the Iraqi Governing Council, whose senior members were hand-picked by the US authorities. It recommends taking action against four Iraqi ministers - whose names have removed from the document - for alleged corruption.

"In retrospect, both for political and organisational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons and brothers-in-law, but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work ... our failure to promote accountability has hurt us."

The memo, whose details were revealed by investigative journalist Jason Vest and published yesterday by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, goes on to criticise the CPA for a bunker mentality.

"[CPA administrator Paul] Bremer has encouraged centralisation in Iraq because it is easier to control a Governing Council less than a kilometre away from the Palace rather than having 18 provincial councils [which] would otherwise have budgetary authority."

The memo also derides the US authority for spending "millions importing sport utility vehicles which are used to drive the kilometre-and-a-half between the CPA and the Governing Council headquarters when we would have been better off with a small fleet of used cars and a bicycle for every Green Zone resident".

Despite obvious problems, Washington has said it is determined to stand firm on a 30 June deadline to hand over sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi authority. The UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is currently trying to find an agreement as to who would make up the provisional body.

America's problems in Iraq have been exacerbated by the decision of several countries to withdraw their troops from the country. On Monday, Honduras followed Spain by announcing it would pull its troops out.

Yesterday, it was reported by the Irish Times that Poland, which contributes around 2,400 troops to an international peacekeeping contingent, will withdraw its forces at the end of the year.