Washington: Iraq now ranks as the second-most unstable country in the world, ahead of war-ravaged or poverty-stricken nations such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti and North Korea, according to the 2007 Failed State index issued by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace.

Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid, and the presence of more than 150,000 American troops, Iraq has been on a steady decline over the past three years, according to the index. It ranked fourth last year, but its score dropped in almost all of the 12 political, economic, security and social indicators on which the index is based. "The report tells us that Iraq is sinking fast," said Fund for Peace President Pauline Baker.

"We believe it's reached the point of no return. We have recommended - based on studies done every six months since the US invasion - that the administration face up to the reality that the only choices for Iraq are how and how violently it will break up."

In a parallel series of reports, the Fund for Peace, a research and advocacy group, suggests a policy of managed partition for Iraq.

Sudan, largely because of the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, is the world's most unstable country.