Byline: PAKINAM AMER Deutsche Presse-Agentur
CAIRO -- The spectre of civil war in the Middle East loomed in three separate regions as the year drew to a close. In Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, central government faced a serious armed challenge to its authority.
During his last visit to the region, British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged that the situation in the region was "difficult." In what was subsequently played down as a slip of the tongue he had previously called the situation in Iraq "a disaster."
Calls by Iraqi Premier Nuri-al-Maliki for reconciliation and the formation of a government of national unity were drowned out by gunfire and reports of the bodies found scattered around Baghdad.
After the meeting between US President George W Bush and al-Maliki held in Amman far from the fighting -- members of parliament and ministers loyal to Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr boycotted the government.
"The political system in Iraq is pushing the country to the verge of civil war. It has slashed the society to pieces," said Abdel-Wahab Qassab, an Iraqi analyst.
"What we have now is already a weaker form of civil war between Iraqi rivals."
Shiite and Sunni mosques were recently torched. Worshippers were dragged from prayers and burnt alive in one the worst of the sectarian attacks that US and Iraqi troops appear powerless to prevent.
In and around Baghdad, Iraqis have started securing their own neighbourhoods, with volunteers patrolling at night and roads sealed off with tree trunks.
Death squads have now become associated with groups in parliament.
The Iraqi resistance of the Sunni militias has become a significant power.
According to a classified US government report disclosed by the New York Times, Iraqi militias raise millions of dollars annually from kidnapping and oil smuggling.
The presence of US troops has contributed to the unrest, but their withdrawal could threaten even more chaos.
"If the Iraqi government can't stop sectarian killing today when it is able to call on the world's most powerful military, it can hardly be expected to do so when the Americans have left," says US political columnist Aparisim Ghosh in Time magazine.
The situation in Iraq has had an impact on domestic politics in the United States, with the Democrats securing wins in the mid-term elections and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paying the price.
In Lebanon, the same faces that fuelled the previous civil war can still be seen on both sides, even though new alliances …