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British analyst warns of volatile Iraqi situation

The security situation in Iraq still remains “highly volatile” although the US surge strategy has remarkably reduced the violence there, a leading British think tank said.

“Although the reinforced security effort in Iraq, the so-called 'surge', has dramatically reduced the violence towards both military and civilians, including in insurgent and terrorist attacks, criminality, intra-communal militia violence and sectarian strife remain commonplace, and still undermine political and economic initiatives,” the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in its annual report, Military Balance 2008, released on Tuesday.

Progress on the political front has been insubstantial, John Chipman, Director-General of the IISS, said at the release of the report.

“At cabinet level, the Maliki government remains fractured and largely ineffectual. Individual ministries resemble party or personal fiefdoms with cross-governmental coordination remaining sporadic at best,” said Chipman.

“The US policy of embedding Provisional Reconstruction teams with U.S. military units across Iraq is beginning to deliver dividends but their overall impact remains limited as they are so thinly dispersed,” said he.

On the perspective of Iraq's situation, the implications of sustained counter-insurgency and stability operations in Iraq were now leading to concern among some US commanders over their relevance to long-term security requirements and force developments, the IISS said.

In the medium term, the United States would desire to shift its forces into “tactical over watch,” whereby control is handed over to Iraqi forces with the United States offering support, said the report.

If troops reductions could happen in 2008, it is estimated that President Bush's successor would inherit a situation whereby at least 100,000 troops were still stationed in Iraq, the IISS said.

“It is likely, however, that General Petraeus will recommend slowing the reduction of US troops to hedge against reversals in the security situation,” said Chipman.

“The next year will also see the U.S. and other governments negotiate bilateral security arrangements with the Government of Iraq which will define the nature and scope of their efforts to stabilize the country, develop security forces, and provide assistance with internal and external security,” added Chipman.

Last month, Bush said that the United States was on track to complete the planned withdrawal of 20,000 troops from Iraq by mid-year, and further troops withdrawal would depend on the conditions on the ground.

Currently, there are some 160,000 US troops in Iraq. And about 3,945 US troops have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. (Xinhua)