* Washington worries conflict could widen, to Iran's benefit
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - U.S. officials voiced concern
on Tuesday that Bahrain's failure to implement key reforms
outlined in an independent 2011 report is making political
dialogue more difficult and widening fissures in society in ways
that would benefit Iran.
Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been under
Western pressure to implement recommendations for police,
judicial, media and education reforms made by the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an independent
commission of international legal experts.
"We are worried that this society is moving apart rather
than coming together in a way that would ensure both human
rights and stability," said a senior U.S. official, speaking to
reporters on condition he not be identified by name.
"It's absolutely clear that if society breaks apart, Iran
will be the big winner and beneficiary," added the official.
Shi'ite protesters complain they continue to be marginalized
by Bahrain's Sunni rulers. The strategically located island
state is a key U.S. ally in Washington's stand-off with Shi'ite
The BICI report, issued last year, said 35 people died
during unrest which erupted in the Persian Gulf monarchy in
February 2011 after revolts overthrew dictators in Egypt and
The U.S. official said Bahrain had "followed a number of the
recommendations" including allowing Red Cross access to
prisoners, issuing arrest protocols and modest police training
and setting up an ombudsman in the Ministry of Interior.
"On the hardest issues, the government has not followed
through," he said, citing people still being held in prison or
facing prosecution for the early 2011 demonstrations.
"We remain concerned about increasing violence in Bahrain,
by limits on free expression and assembly and a political
environment that's become increasingly difficult and that's made
reconciliation and political dialogue more difficult," said the
Washington also lamented fresh violence in the past month,
including Molotov cocktails and other violent actions by
protesters, as well an "excessive use of force by police and
security forces," said the official.
A second U.S. official said the 60-year-old U.S. security
relationship with Bahrain was critical to regional stability and
required a balancing act by Washington.
American policy aimed to "balance those requirements and
those interests with those we have at the same time in
encouraging reform, given our commitment to the fact that reform
is the only way we can see that genuine stability and prosperity
will emerge in the region," said he second official.