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Uansett hvordan man tenker om Irak, så er utviklingen der så dramatisk at den ikke er til å overse. Det som skjer i Gaza og Libanon er bare blåbær mot det som skjer i Irak. Vi snakker om borgerkrig i et av araberverdenens sentrale land, hvor de etnisk/religiøse konfliktene har ringvirkninger også utenfor Midtøsten.

Det ville være galt å legge skylden for Iraks fall på USA og Bush alene. På et eller annet tidspunkt overtok de innenrikspolitiske kreftene. Men det går an å snakke om kausalitet uten å snakke om moralsk skyld. Og det er noen av grunnelementene i Bush-administrasjonens forestillinger om «remaking of the Middle East» som her fordamper. Noen hver trenger å gå i tenkeboksen.

Den som måtte mene at beskrivelsen av Irak er svartmaling, kan bare lese Times-journalisten James Hiders artikkel, My friends live in fear as a savage civil war rips apart their home, fra 14. juli.

Hider hadde ikke vært i Bagdad på flere måneder, og hadde ikke fulgt med på nyhetene. Han fikk sjokk da han kontaktet sine vanlige forbindelser; tolker og sjåfører. De satt innesperret i leilighetene med sine familier. Utenfor lusket hettekledde menn med våpen. Bagdad er i ferd med å bli inndelt i etniske enklaver. Men hadde man enda visst hvem man hadde med å gjøre! Det er det som gjør situasjonen uutholdelig: Man aner ikke hvem som er hvem. Kun at de er brutale og hensynsløse. Folk flykter, helst til utlandet, hvis de har muligheten.

AS I hung up the phone, I wondered if I would ever see my friend Ali alive again. Ali, The Times’ translator for the past three years, lives in west Baghdad, an area that is now in meltdown as a bitter civil war rages between Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. It is, quite simply, out of control.
I had returned to Baghdad on Monday after a break of several months, during which I too was guilty of glazing over every time I read another story of Iraqi violence. But two nights on the phone, listening to my lost and frightened Iraqi staff facing death at any moment, persuaded me that Baghdad is verging on total collapse.

Ali phoned me on Tuesday night, about 10.30pm. There were cars full of gunmen prowling his mixed neighbourhood, he said. He and his neighbours were frantically exchanging information, trying to identify the gunmen.

Were they the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia blamed for drilling holes in their victims’ eyes and limbs before executing them by the dozen? Or were they Sunni insurgents hunting down Shias to avenge Sunday’s massacre when Shia gunmen rampaged through an area called Jihad, pulling people from their cars and homes and shooting them in the streets?

We just have to wait and see what our fate is,» Ali told me. It was the first time in three years of bombs, battles and kidnappings that I had heard this stocky, very physical young man sounding scared, but there was nothing I could do to help.

The previous night I had had a similar conversation with my driver, a Shia who lives in another part of west Baghdad. He phoned at 11pm to say that there was a battle raging outside his house and that his family were sheltering in the windowless bathroom.

Marauding Mahdi gunmen, seeking to drive all Sunnis from the area, were fighting Sunni Mujahidin for control of a nearby strategic position. I could hear the gunfire blazing over the phone.

Amerikanerne har trukket seg tilbake. De kvier seg for å ta parti, for da vil de raskt komme i konflikt med alle parter:

We phoned the US military trainer attached to Iraqi security forces in the area. He said there was nothing to be done: «There’s always shooting at night here. It’s like chasing ghosts.»

In fact, the US military generally responds only to request for support from Iraqi security forces. But as many of those forces are at best turning a blind eye to the Shia death squads, and at worst colluding with them, calling the Americans is literally the last thing they do.

Selv sykehusene står i fare for å bli overtatt av selvjustisen:

A nurse at Yarmouk hospital on the fringes of west Baghdad’s war zone said that he was close to being overwhelmed. «On Tuesday we received 35 bodies in one day, 16 from Al-Furat district alone. All of them were killed execution-style,» he said. «I thought it was the end of the city. I packed my bags at once and got ready to leave because they could storm the hospital at any moment.»

In just 24 hours before noon yesterday, as parliament convened for another emergency session, 87 bodies were brought to Baghdad city morgue, 63 of them unidentified. Since Sunday’s massacre in Jihad, more than 160 people have been killed, making a total of at least 1,600 since Iraq’s Government of national unity came to power six weeks ago. Another 2,500 have been wounded.

Hvor lenge tar det før USA våkner opp til borgerkrigen, og krever amerikansk tilbaketrekning?

Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate, described Baghdad after a recent visit as a city in the throes of «nascent civil war».

Most Iraqis believe that it is already here. «There is a campaign to eradicate all Sunnis from Baghdad,» said Sheikh Omar al-Jebouri, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni parliamentary group. He said that it was organised by the Shia-dominated Interior Ministry and its police special commandos, with Shia militias, to destroy Mr al-Maliki’s plans to rebuild Iraq’s security forces along national, not sectarian, lines.

Ahmed Abu Mustafa, a resident of the Sunni district of Amariyah in western Baghdad, was stunned to see two police car pick-ups full of gunmen speed up to his local mosque on Tuesday evening and open fire on it with their government issued machineguns.

Det er et vannskille: å se uniformert politi som skyter på en moské. Hvem skal opprettholde lov og orden? De finnes ikke.

Hvis det er riktig som Hider skriver at Nouri al-Malikis fredsplan med tilbud om amnesti og avvæpning av militsene allerede er død, så gjenstår trolig bare den delingen av landet som Peter Galbraith beskriver. Men mye kan skje: En borgerkrig rommer uante konsekvenser.

Syrias president Bashar al-Assad og Teheran trenger bare se på strømmen av mennesker som lander på deres flyplasser, for å skjønne at Irak er et stort nederlag for USA. Det kan ha forledet dem til å tro at de kan starte nye branner, som Gaza og Libanon, som brannmennene Israel//USA ikke har kapasitet til å slukke.

A neurologist, who was heading to Jordan with his wife, said that he would seek work abroad and hoped that he would never have to return. «We were so happy on April 9, 2003 when the Americans came. But I’ve given up. Iraq isn’t ready for democracy,» he said, sitting in a chair with a view of the airport runway.

Fares al-Mufti, an official with the Iraqi Airways booking office, told The Times that the national carrier had had to lay on an extra flight a day, all fully booked. Flights to Damascus have gone up from three a week to eight.

Muhammad al-Ani, who runs cars to Jordan, said that the service to Amman was so oversubscribed that prices had rocketed from $200 (£108) to $750 a trip in two weeks.

Despite the huge risks of driving through the Sunni Triangle, 40 or 50 buses a day travel to Jordan. There used to be two.

Finnes det noen svar? Nei, men nå gjelder det å stille de riktige spørsmålene. Pyromanene bryr seg ikke om at huset brenner ned. Hvor er EU og FN? Er Russland, India og Kina å regne med? Sistnevnte trenger i det minste olje.

My friends live in fear as a savage civil war rips apart their home