UNITED NATIONS – 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.
Iraqi leaders were "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."
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, in turn, 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 terror and violence.
"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. Authorities also found at least five bodies, including two women, that probably were victims of reprisal killings being waged between Shiite and Sunni Arabs
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.
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 Iraqi president also promised to undertake a constitutional review amid disputes over whether Iraq should be a federal system that could lead to autonomous Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish areas. He said a draft amnesty law would be prepared as the government tries to bring hostile groups that renounce violence into the political process.
"We will build national consensus along with the institutions and policies that are needed to heal the wounds of the past and remove the obstacles to Iraq's promising future," he said in opening remarks before delegates began more than three hours of closed discussions.