Iraqi Official Issues Dire Warning on U.S. Pullout

Iraqis inspect destruction at the site of a truck bomb blast in the village of Armili.

Iraqis inspect destruction at the site of a truck bomb blast in the village of Armili. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images

Iraq's foreign minister warned Monday that the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops could lead to civil war and the collapse of the Iraqi state, even as the Congressional debate heats up over President Bush's war strategy and violence in Iraq intensifies.

"We have held discussion with members of Congress and explained to them the dangers of a quick pullout and leaving a security vacuum," said Hoshyar Zebari. "The dangers could be a civil war, dividing the country, regional wars and the collapse of the state."

Zebari's comments came after a weekend of bloody attacks that left more than 220 people dead.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives at the market in a Shiite farming town north of Baghdad, killing at least 115 people and leveling nearby buildings. Police said the death toll in Armili could reach 150.

The violence continued Sunday with a string of bombings in Baghdad. The attacks there made it clear that extremists can still unleash organized strikes in the capital, despite a relative lull in violence in past weeks amid U.S. offensives.

Zebari said Iraqis "understand the huge pressure that will increase more and more in the United States" ahead of a September report to Congress by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and military commander Gen. David Petraeus.

The report will assess progress toward national reconciliation. Leading Republicans have said they will demand a change in Iraq policy if there is no sign of progress.

But Zebari said the United States has a responsibility to remain in Iraq.

"In our estimation, until Iraqi forces are ready, there is a responsibility on the United States which is to stand with the (government) as the forces are being built," he said.

In Sunday's violence, two car bombs detonated nearly simultaneously in Baghdad's mostly Shiite Karrada district, killing eight people. The first hit at 10:30 a.m., near a closed restaurant, destroying stalls and soft drink stands. Two passers-by were killed and eight wounded, a police official said.

The area is near the offices of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the biggest Shiite party in parliament, and is believed to be among the most protected parts of the city.

About five minutes later, the second car exploded about a mile away, hitting shops selling leather jackets and shoes. Six people were killed and seven wounded, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

On Baghdad's southwestern outskirts, a bomb hit a truckload of newly recruited Iraqi soldiers being brought into the capital to join the crackdown, killing 15 soldiers and wounding 20, a police official at the nearest police station said, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Also, a bomb hidden under a car went off at the entrance of Shorja market — a central Baghdad market that has been hit repeatedly by insurgents — killing three civilians and wounding five, police said.

U.S. military officials announced that an American soldier was killed in combat Saturday in Salahuddin province, but they did not provide details.

In Armili, residents buried about 70 of the dead from the truck bombing the Saturday morning. Mourners flowed into mosques and funeral tents set up in the town's main street, where black banners were hung on the walls with names of the dead.

Iraqi army and police forces were out in increased numbers in the streets and closed off entrances to the town to prevent attacks on the funerals - a frequent target of Sunni insurgents, said Brig. Abbas Mohammed Amin, chief of police in the nearby city of Tuz Khurmato.

The toll from the attack in the farming town of 26,000 — mostly Shiites from Iraq's ethnic Turkoman minority — was still not clear. Abdullah Jabara, deputy governor of Salahuddin province where the town is located, said Saturday the toll from the blast was 115 dead — nearly three-quarters of them women, children and elderly.

On Sunday, Amin put the toll at 150 dead, while Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite Turkoman lawmaker, told reporters 130 had been killed.

The count was difficult because of the town's remote location and because many of the dead initially had been buried under rubble that took hours to clear. Saturday's blast ripped through the town market during crowded morning shopping, destroying dozens of old mud-brick homes and shops.

From NPR and The Associated Press reports

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