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Annan Says Iraq on Brink of Civil War

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Iraq is on the verge of civil war, and could go over the edge unless urgent action is taken. VOA's Peter Heinlein at our U.N. office reports on a flurry of diplomatic activity amid deteriorating Iraqi security conditions.

Hours before he spoke with a U.S. panel studying Iraq Monday, Mr. Annan told reporters he sees the country teetering on the brink.

"Given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there," said Kofi Annan. "In fact, we are almost there."

The secretary-general made the comment shortly before he was to hold a teleconference with the Iraq Study Group. The panel headed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton is looking at policy options for American military operations in Iraq.

The study group spoke previously with other senior U.N. officials, including the secretary-general's special envoy to Iraq, the Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Qazi, and Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown.

The New York Times newspaper Monday reported the Study Group is considering whether to recommend to President Bush that he set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. In a front page article, The Times said a draft of the Study Group report urges aggressive regional diplomacy, including direct talks with Iran and Syria.

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani in Tehran Monday appealed to Iran for help in improving security in Iraq. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was reported to have promised to do all his country could to cooperate.

A senior White House official has acknowledged that violence in Iraq has entered a new phase. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters traveling with President Bush in Estonia the "new phase" is characterized by what he called "increasing sectarian violence that requires us to adapt".

Top Iraqi government officials were quoted Monday as saying Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would discuss a speedier handover of security control to Iraqi forces when he meets President Bush this week in Jordan. The Associated Press quoted two officials in Baghdad as saying the Iraqi side views the Bush-Maliki talks as the most important between leaders of the two countries since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.