UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Monday on the Iraqi government to do more to foster national unity, warning the violence-ridden country was in “grave danger” of collapsing into civil war.

He also urged more “urgent international engagement,” saying a lack of sufficient support would “guarantee” the failure of efforts to secure peace.

Annan was addressing a meeting of foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to discuss the implementation of the Compact for Iraq, a five-year plan to ensure Iraq’s government has funds to survive and enact key political and economic reforms.

Iraqi leaders are “at an important crossroads” as the country faces a persistent insurgency and rampant sectarian violence, Annan said.

“If they can address the needs and common interests of all Iraqis, the promise of peace and prosperity is still within reach,” he said. “But 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 a full-scale civil war.”

The Iraqis promised to tackle security issues, address the problem of illegally armed groups and promote a national reconciliation plan aimed at embracing all groups that condemn terrorism.

“We don’t have a choice. We must succeed,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, speaking on a day in which bombers and gunmen across Iraq killed at least 41 people.

The International Compact for Iraq was set up in June, shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office, to “consolidate peace and pursue political, economic and social development.”

Monday’s meeting, held on the eve of the annual U.N. General Assembly debate, was one of a series to discuss the details.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said another meeting on the compact would be held in early October in Baghdad and expressed hope the plans would be finalized by the end of the year. Rice said the U.S. was proud of the contribution it was making to the international community’s efforts on this, and proud of what the Iraqis have achieved so far, according to one of the meeting participants.

She also said they should all meet again in November to further state what their contributions are going to be, the participant said, speaking on condition of anonymity because her remarks were made during the closed part of the session. It was not clear how that meeting might be connected to the one Malloch Brown mentioned.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, outlined his country’s plans to ensure security and enact economic and good governance reforms.

He said other priorities included developing efficient and accountable security forces, along with a program for the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of militias that will include retraining the members and creating employment opportunities for them. In a rare official acknowledgment, Talabani said the government “recognizes that the infiltration of the security ministries by criminal elements and members of terrorist groups represents a major challenge.”

Sunni Arabs have alleged the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi police forces, is infiltrated by Shiite militias that are blamed for many sectarian killings.

The meeting also drew delegates from Iraq’s neighboring countries, including Iran, which the U.S. has accused of interfering in Iraqi politics and allowing insurgents to cross the border. Tehran denies those allegations.

The meeting participant said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took advantage of the forum to criticize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, saying the roots of mayhem in Iraq lie in a unilateral decision that was taken in 2003 and decrying the erroneous and double-standards of foreign troops in the country.

A senior U.S. State Department official, who also declined to be identified because the discussions were closed, said the Iranian outburst and a remark by the Syrians were the only discordant notes of the session. He did not elaborate on what the Syrians said.



Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Anne Gearan in New York contributed to this story.


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