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Iraq 'failing to tackle death squads'
Senior US officials have accused the new Iraqi government - which they previously championed - of failing to deal with the scourge of sectarian death squads, which are dragging the country into civil war.
Fresh figures published yesterday show that more than 250,000 Iraqis have been displaced by the sectarian violence since February. The details emerged in a week which, say US officials, has seen the highest number of suicide bombings recorded - half of them aimed at US-led forces.
As thousands of Iraqi and US troops continued to conduct cordon-and-search operations across the capital, a senior US officer for the first time publicly questioned prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's tactics for quelling the sectarian violence.
"We have to fix this militia issue. We can't have armed militias competing with Iraq's security forces. But I have to trust the prime minister to decide when it is that we do that," said Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the second-highest-ranking American military official in Baghdad.
His comments echoed those of Major General James Thurman, commander of US military forces in Baghdad, who said last week he believed the question of militias was "a problem that the [Iraqi] government must deal with immediately".
Other senior US officials have begun warning that if the Iraqi government does not take a lead in disarming the militias, the US military might have to do so.
Despite a massive military effort in Baghdad to clear no-go areas of militants, much of the effort has focused on strongholds of Sunni fighters, and has so far had no impact on the slaughter. Instead, a record 7,000 Iraqis have died in the last two months alone. To add to US gloom it was revealed yesterday that the Bush administration is spending $2bn (£1bn) a week on the campaign in Iraq.