- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s foreign minister warned today that a quick American military withdrawal from the country could lead to civil war and the collapse of the government, as pressure on the Bush administration for a pullout grows.

Attacks in Baghdad killed 13 people as prominent Shi’ite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including one of the deadliest attacks of the four-year Iraqi conflict.

The burst of violence comes at a sensitive time. U.S. forces are waging offensives in and around Baghdad aimed at uprooting militants and bringing calm to the capital, and a progress report to Congress is due on July 15. At the same time, several Republican congressman have joined calls for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraqis understand the huge pressure that will increase more and more in the United States ahead of the progress report by the U.S. ambassador and top commander in Iraq.

We have held discussion with members of Congress and explained to them the dangers of a quick pullout [from Iraq] and leaving a security vacuum, Mr. Zebari said. The dangers could be a civil war, dividing the country, regional wars and the collapse of the state.

In our estimations, until Iraqi forces are ready, there is a responsibility on the United States to stand with the [government] as the forces are being built, he said.

Mr. Zebari, a Kurd from northern Iraq, also said Turkey has massed 140,000 soldiers on its border with northern Iraq, where the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has bases and mounts attacks on Turkish forces.

Turkey’s fears are legitimate but such things can be discussed, Mr. Zebari said. The perfect solution is the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the borders.

The Iraqi calls for the arming of civilians to fight insurgents reflected the growing frustration with Iraqi security forces’ inability to prevent extremists’ attacks — like Saturday’s devastating suicide truck bombing in the Shi’ite town of Armili, north of Baghdad, that killed more than 150 people, according to the latest toll from police and officials.

Yesterday, Armili residents shouted insults at the governor of Salahuddin province, Hamad Hmoud Shagti, and the provincial police chief as they visited for funerals of the victims in the town with longtime tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis, police and other officials said.

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