ACCORDING to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by Iraq and the United States last November all US forces will leave Iraqi cities by the end of this month and urban security will become the exclusive responsibility of the Iraq authorities. Following the success of the US “surge” last year the number of shootings and bombings in Baghdad and Mosul dropped considerably but by April this year the death toll of civilians had risen to 370 and the figure for May is expected to be worse. One factor has been the return to violence of the so-called Sons of Iraq - some 100'000 Sunnis paid by the United States to support the surge but no longer in US employment. The police forces in the Baghdad and Mosul are at far from full strength and the Iraqi army lacks essential equipment.

Many Iraqi citizens fear a return to the sectarian killings that plagued Baghdad for three or four years after the Anglo-American invasion. A recent CNN documentary interviewed people who despairingly told of how neighbours who were close family friends before 2003 are now deadly enemies. Areas in which Shias, Sunnis and others lived peacefully together are now segregated and divided by walls. It seems inconceivable that US forces can just walk away from such a situation -- but that is what the Status of Forces Agreement requires. Any change in that Agreement would pose questions about America's planned withdrawal of 130'000 troops next year.