Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said in a TV interview aired Sunday. His comments were immediately rejected by Britain's defense secretary.
Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp. there was no other way to describe the increasing violence across the country.
"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," Allawi told the BBC. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
Allawi heads the Iraqi National List, a secular alliance of Shiite and Sunni politicians that won 25 seats in December parliamentary elections.
While visiting British troops in Iraq on Sunday, Defense Secretary John Reid said Allawi's remarks to the BBC contradicted what the former prime minister told him during a Saturday meeting.
"Every single politician I have met here from the prime minister to the president, the defense minister and indeed Ayad Allawi himself yesterday said to me there's an increase in the sectarian killing, but there's not a civil war and we will not allow a civil war to develop," Reid said.
"The essential thing is to show maximum unity in a government of national unity so that the terrorists that do want a civil war do not get their wish."
The bombing of a Shiite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Feb. 22 unleashed a wave of sectarian violence that left hundreds dead. Allawi said the violence in Iraq was moving toward "the point of no return" and that the country was "in a terrible civil conflict."
He also warned that the United States and European nations would not be immune from the conflict because not only will Iraq "fall apart," but "sectarianism will spread throughout the region."
"Even Europe and the United States would not be spared all the violence that may occur as a result of sectarian problems in this region," Allawi said.
Allawi said playing down the current problems in Iraq would be a mistake, telling the BBC he had warned against a power vacuum and the prevalence of militias.
Allawi said the formation of a national unity government was what Iraq needed to achieve peace.
Iraq's newly elected Parliament was seated Thursday, and representatives of its Shiite Arab, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs have been meeting in an effort to overcome deep divisions and agree on the makeup of a new government. The minority factions want to block broad Shiite control of powerful ministries.
Allawi's nonsectarian party was among those trying to block the candidacy of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite. The opposition groups contend that al-Jaafari would not represent their interests and did too little to stop Shiite revenge attacks in the aftermath of the Samarra shrine bombing.