THE possibility of civil war in Iraq has been on the horizon ever since US and British forces invaded the country. On Wednesday that possibility hardened when the Iraq government apparently assented to the continued existence of armed militias owing allegiance to the country's main ethnic and sectarian communities. At a briefing attended by the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite Arab, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, it was announced that the Kurdish militia and the Shiite Iraniantrained militia, known as the Badr organisation, would retain their individual character and hierarchy even though being placed under the nominal control of the Iraq Defence and Interior ministries. This decision means that the American policy of disbanding all militias in favour of a single unified Iraq armed force has been rejected by the two most important power bases in the country, the Shiites and the Kurds. At the same time it shows that the Sunni Arab community has no comparable organised militia beyond the insurgents who are causing such mayhem daily through car and suicide bombings. The Kurds have a force of about 100'000, known as pesh merga, or those who face death. The strength of the Shiite Badr organisation is not known but is thought to be in the high tens of thousands. It is not difficult to imagine the nervousness of the Sunnis in these circumstances. At the same time, it is difficult to predict how a civil war might be aligned since it would depend on the issue that sparked it. The most immediate focus of possible conflict is the constitution, a first draft of which is required by midAugust even though arguments continue about the makeup of the committee responsible for preparing it. The Sunnis Arabs have only two non-voting representatives on the 55-member committee and they have asked for the addition of 25 voting members, a request unlikely to be granted. All the signs are that Iraq is resuming its rigid divisions of the past but with power now in very different hands.
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