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Iraq's Foreign Minister Cautions Against Hasty US Withdrawal


Iraq's foreign minister has warned that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to civil war and the collapse of the Iraqi government. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports the Iraqi diplomat was reacting to growing debate about the future of American troops in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters in Baghdad that he understands the mounting pressure in the United States for progress toward stability in Iraq. A report to Congress is due in September on the progress of thousands of additional American troops sent to Iraq to quell sectarian violence.

Zebari says Iraqi officials have discussed with members of Congress the "dangers of a quick withdrawal and leaving a security vacuum." He said, "the dangers could be a civil war, dividing the country, regional wars and the collapse of the state."

He added that Iraqi forces are not ready to police the country on their own.

The United States currently has nearly 160,000 military personnel in the country.

President Bush is not the only leader under pressure. There are reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could face a no-confidence vote as soon as Sunday in parliament.

Support for the Prime Minister has plummeted recently, with the boycott last week of six Sunni ministers from the cabinet. Their boycott is in addition to the withdrawal in April of six ministers loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadrist support for Mr. Maliki declined further last week, when the prime minister charged that former Saddam Hussein loyalists and other criminals have infiltrated Sadr's movement. In return, a Sadr spokesman accused Mr. Maliki of being a U.S. puppet.

The latest political crisis follows on a weekend of heavy violence in and around Baghdad, in which more than 200 people were killed. Most died in a single attack in a small village north of the capital inhabited by mostly ethnic Turkmen.

The recent attacks have prompted some prominent Shiite and Sunni politicians to call for Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves if the government cannot.

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