UNITED NATIONS,(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his second gloomy message in a week, said on Monday Iraq was in danger of descending into civil war if present trends continue.
Annan, opening an international conference for Iraq, urged Iraqi leaders to overcome sectarian and regional tensions by seeking consensus on unresolved constitutional issues such as federalism and revenue-sharing.
“If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much longer, there is a grave danger that the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of full-scale civil war,” he said. His statement followed a comment upon return from a Middle East tour last week that most leaders in the region considered the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had been a “disaster.”
“The most immediate task is to broaden support for the kind of action — at the national, regional and international levels — that can bring Iraq back from the brink,” Annan said.
Annan urged Iraq’s neighbors to cooperate more to stabilize the country, saying: “Peace in Iraq will ultimately depend on domestic resolve and regional cooperation. But it will not come about without ever more urgent international engagement.”
Asked about Annan’s comments, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told reporters his government faced many security challenges and obstacles “but that does not mean we are facing a civil war.” He said stability also required cooperation by Iraq’s neighbors, most of whom were represented at the conference.
Participants said in the closed-door part of the meeting, Iran’s deputy foreign minister gave a tough speech blaming the U.S. military presence for Iraq’s troubles, while states such as China and Egypt appealed to the Iraqi government to uphold human rights amid reports of sectarian killings.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also spoke at the ministerial session of U.N.-sponsored International Compact for Iraq, bringing together the Baghdad government, major donors and neighboring countries but her remarks were not released.
A senior State Department official refused to be drawn on Annan’s comments about the possibility of civil war, except to say that the “civil conflict” in Iraq must be stopped.
“Iraq faces a very serious challenge from civil conflict, sectarian conflict. This is a big, big problem. It and the growth of militias is enormously poisonous to the future of Iraq,” said the official, who would not say what the difference was between the term civil war and civil conflict.
The official, who was not named according to department rules, said the only “discordant note” in the Iraq meeting was struck by Iran and Syria. He called Iran’s comments a “diatribe” that did not dignify a response.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani insisted the government’s security plan was showing signs of success, citing a drop in reported incidents of violence in Baghdad in the past month. However, daily bombings have continued in the provinces, and at least 35 people were killed in one such attack at a police recruitment center in central Iraq on Monday as politicians wrangled over federalism plans.
Talabani said the government recognized that security ministries had been infiltrated “by criminal elements and members of terrorist groups” and was seeking ways to demobilize militias and give their members retraining and jobs.