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General: Iraq Shifting from Insurgency Toward Sectarian Violence

The general who commands all U.S. military activities in the Middle East says the situation in Iraq is shifting from insurgency toward sectarian violence, but he says he does not think it is moving toward civil war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraqi leaders need to form a new and inclusive government soon to deal with the situation.

At a U.S. Senate committee hearing, General John Abizaid said tension in Iraq is increasing, and the type of violence is changing.

"There's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we've seen," said John Abizaid. "And it is of great concern to all of us. It's my belief that the security situation in the country, while changing in its nature from insurgency toward sectarian violence, is controllable by Iraqi security forces and multi-national forces."

Later, speaking to reporters, General Abizaid said he does not think Iraq is moving toward civil war. But at the senate hearing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said insurgents are trying to start one.

"Now, obviously, insurgents and terrorists are trying to cause a civil war," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And so they've attacked the Golden Dome shrine and they're trying to create sectarian conflict. I don't think they're going to be successful. I don't know. Nobody knows. The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur

Secretary Rumsfeld declined to say what role U.S. forces would play if a civil war broke out in Iraq. But he stressed that avoiding a civil war is as much a political issue as it is a military one.

"The situation, to the extent that it's fragile and tense, is as much a governance issue as it is a security issue," he said. "The need is for the principal players in that country to recognize the seriousness of the situation, and to come together to form a government of national unity that will govern from the center, and to do it in a reasonably prompt manner. And that will be what it will take, in my view, to further calm the situation."

Iraqi leaders have been negotiating the formation of a new government for several weeks, and U.S. officials say finishing that process has become increasingly important. Secretary Rumsfeld says the government must have the confidence of the security forces, must be seen as being fair to all Iraqis and must install ministers who focus on doing their jobs rather than gathering political spoils.

But the secretary resisted suggestions from senators to issue an ultimatum to Iraqi leaders, or to set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. He says such moves would be counterproductive, but that the Iraqi leaders know they must take control of their country, and that all sides want the foreign troops out of Iraq as soon as the situation allows.