Congressional proposals to restrict U.S. military operations in Iraq by providing only targeted funding could unleash more ethnic bloodshed there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

Limiting war funding to only certain training or counterterrorism missions could pull troops from Baghdad neighborhoods, which have been the focus of the latest military buildup in Iraq.

"One real possibility is, if we abandon some of these areas and withdraw into the countryside or whatever to do these targeted missions, that you could have a fairly significant ethnic cleansing inside Baghdad or in Iraq more broadly," Gates said in a radio interview Wednesday with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week said he will propose legislation to cut off funds for combat operations, and provide money for only three missions: targeted counterterrorism operations, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, and to provide security for U.S. personnel and infrastructure.

Gates and other military leaders have argued that quelling the violence in Baghdad is necessary to give the fractured Iraqi government time to come together and ease widespread sectarian violence.

Recent Pentagon and U.S. intelligence reports have characterized some of the suicide bombings and other attacks by Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents as a "civil war," a description that members of the Bush administration had been loath to use.

Some members of Congress have argued that U.S. lives should not be lost trying to quash an Iraqi civil war.