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U.S. allies bear brunt of uprising

By Guy Raz
CNN Correspondent


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(CNN) -- As violence spreads further south in Iraq, U.S. allies with troops in the region are facing unexpected challenges.

Britain, Italy, Poland and Spain all have significant deployments in Shia-dominated areas, and the recent unrest is forcing a strategic reassessment.

European analysts are concerned the coalition of the willing could begin to collapse if the United Nations isn't given a stronger role soon.

While U.S. forces in central Iraq face daily battles with Iraqi forces, fighting is also taking place in Diwaniya, where some 1,300 Spanish troops are based.

Further south in Basra -- where mainly British troops operate -- the situation also is deteriorating rapidly.

Britain is the only U.S. ally with more than 10,000 troops in Iraq. Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Spain each have between 1,000 and 3,000 soldiers in the country -- though Spain has pledged to withdraw its troops by the end of June.

The Shiite uprising now materializing was long anticipated by Iraqi analysts. And the major U.S. allies -- stationed in the Shiite-dominated south -- are bearing the brunt.

"I think the British realize that this is probably the most critical week since the end of the war itself, because there now seems to be a real possibility of a Shia-dominated civil war across Iraq," says Michael Clarke, a professor at Kings College in London

"And if that's the case, then the previous security equation simply won't balance and more focus will have to be put in, greater tactics will have to be thought through and the whole political strategy will have to be readdressed -- and we may be facing those kinds of issues by the end of this week."

At the end of next week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair can raise those issues with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.

On Tuesday, Blair met in London with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebair and said that despite the new violence there's no need to reassess the security strategy just yet.

"Our response to this should not be to run away and hide...but on the contrary--to hold firm," Blair said.

But with instability rising to dangerous levels across southern Iraq, other U.S. allies like Italy may begin to re-think their role after the coalition hands over sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

"Are we changing the entire structure of the command or not? It's not clear -- and I suppose it's going to be part of the reassessment after June 30th -- but I hope even before," says Stefano Silvestri of the International Affairs Institute in Rome


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