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Iraq in danger of civil war, warns Annan
The Guardian
Ed Pilkington in New York
September 19, 2006

The UN secretary general warned yesterday that Iraq was in danger of sliding into anarchy and civil war. Addressing an international aid conference at the UN, Kofi Annan said: "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much longer, there is a grave danger that the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of full-scale civil war."

Mr Annan's bluntest warning to date came on a day when the bloodshed in Iraq claimed more than 50 lives, and on the eve of one of the most important - and difficult - UN general assemblies in years.

In a week of fraught meetings, members of the Bush administration will be forced into the presence of many of their most bitter foes. All parties to the conflicts in the Middle East and Darfur will also be represented.

Despite the chaos in Iraq, however, it is the issue of Iran's nuclear programme that will command closest attention. President Bush will use his speech this afternoon to press home the need for a tough stance, including the imposition of sanctions.

Uncomfortably, though, the arcane rules behind the assembly's running order has meant the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will address the assembly hours later.

White House aides will have to ensure there are no chance encounters between the two after Mr Bush's announcement last week that he would not meet his Iranian counterpart. The Americans are conscious of the embarrassment to President Clinton at the general assembly in 2000 when he shook hands with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Washington has made it clear that no negotiations with Tehran will be allowed until the Iranians have suspended their nuclear programme. "The conditions are quite clear and quite unmoveable," a western diplomat said.

Leading European politicians, including the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, and representatives of France, Germany and Russia, will dine with the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, tonight to discuss ways in which the deadlock can be broken.

There are also likely to be talks through the week, on the margins of the official debates, about how to proceed with sanctions. Iran will not be the only diplomatic hornets' nest. The Arab League is pressing for a meeting of the security council over the Lebanese crisis in which the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel would be represented. The Bush administration is opposing such a meeting unless it can be convinced that something useful will come of it.

Also on the agenda is Darfur. With the African Union ready to end its peace mission in less than two weeks, calls are mounting for action to halt a conflict that has cost at least 250,000 lives.

Original Text