by RAY FLEMING
WHEN will Washington learn? President Bush's drive for democracy in the Middle East has already suffered one serious setback in Palestine and all the signs are that a second is likely to follow in Iraq. On Monday the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned Iraqi political parties that the United States would not be willing to support institutions divided by sectarian agendas. “The United States is investing billions of dollars in Iraq's police and army,” said the ambassador,“and we are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by sectarian groups.” Anyone with a basic knowledge of Iraq's history knew from the start of the Anglo/American intervention that, although the Iraqi people might vote enthusiastically at elections, they would not alter their fundamental allegiance to their religious leaders or to their ethnicity. And so it has proved, to America's displeasure. Ambassador Khalilzad is now urging the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders to place the interests of the country before those of their sects. It is just possible that he may persuade them to paper over the fissures that separate them but any such agreement would be fragile in the extreme and unlikely to survive the departure of American and British forces. And this is where the problem becomes very serious. If, as is likely, sectarian divisions extend into the police and army the already questionable ability of those services to maintain order and stability would cease to exist. Ambassador Khalilzad's warning this week that the United States will not foot the bill for sectarian-based security services shows how worried Washington must be.Yet the corollary of his statment is that US and British forces may have to remain in Iraq almost indefinitely, a possibility that neither the British nor the American governments will want to face. When President Bush spoke so optimistically about bringing democracy to Iraq many people doubted that he would be ready to accept the results of the elections, whatever they might be. We now know that in respect of elections in Palestine and probably in Iraq too, Mr Bush had not thought through the consequences of his policies.