BAGHDAD – Iraq’s foreign minister Monday predicted that his country would splinter into warring fragments and the conflict could spread across its borders if U.S. troops pull out before Iraqi forces are ready to handle security.
The United States has a duty to prevent such a scenario, he said.
The forecast from Hoshyar Zebari coincided with rising pressure on President Bush and the Iraqi leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, from political opponents who want to see the U.S. occupation end.
Zebari, in remarks before taking questions at a news conference, alluded to rumors that some Sunni Arab lawmakers were trying to orchestrate a no-confidence vote against al-Maliki to bring down his Shiite-led government.
“There is rising speculation about the stability of the government,” he said. “These speculations are exaggerated.”
By mentioning the rumors, Zebari made clear that the chatter had caught the government’s attention.
As he spoke, Iraq endured another day of bloodshed and political stagnation. More than 50 people were killed or found dead in violence believed linked to the sectarian war. In the 275-seat parliament, two important political blocs, one Sunni and one Shiite Muslim, continued their boycotts, making it impossible for lawmakers to pass bills that would carry any sense of legitimacy.
Salim Abdullah Jabouri, the spokesman for the main Sunni bloc, said it had no plans to end its boycott. The 44-member bloc is protesting attempts by other lawmakers to oust the Sunni parliament speaker. But Jabouri said the legislators would return to parliament if a no-confidence vote was called.
The 30-member bloc of politicians loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also is boycotting parliament, to protest what they say is the June government’s failure to provide adequate security. Their walkout followed the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
A new crisis appeared to be looming in northern Iraq, where Zebari said Iraqi intelligence indicated that Turkey had tens of thousands of troops on the border poised to conduct raids against Kurdish rebels. Turkey has accused rebels of staging attacks on its territory from Iraq’s Kurdish region and last week said it had plans drawn up to cross the border if attacks did not stop.
Zebari said Iraq did not want the Kurdish rebels operating on its territory but could not spare troops to stop them.
“Our troops are overstretched. We are fighting terrorism here in the streets and neighborhoods of Baghdad,” he said. He said the government was trying to arrange talks among Iraq, Turkey and the United States as soon as possible to defuse the situation.
Asked about the possibility of U.S. troops withdrawing, he said he knew that the Bush administration faced “tremendous” pressure to end the war but that it had a responsibility to remain until Iraq’s security forces could protect the country. Otherwise, he said, there was danger of a civil war, regional war and possibly the collapse of the country.