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Iraq on Verge on Disintegration, War, Saudi Minister Warns U.S.

By Joel Brinkley
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he has been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq is hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

“There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together,” he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. “All the dynamics are pulling the country apart.”

He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message “to everyone who will listen” in the Bush administration.

Saud’s statements, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle East leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments that the White House and the Pentagon have been offering.

But in an appearance at the Pentagon on Thursday, President Bush, while once again expressing long-term optimism, warned that the bloodshed in Iraq was likely to increase in the coming weeks.

“Today, our commanders made it clear,” he said after a meeting on Iraq with senior military officers, “as Iraqis prepare to vote on their constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be prepared for more violence.”

U.S. commanders have repeatedly warned that insurgents would try to disrupt the voting, as they did before legislative elections in January.

Bush said that if the United States left Iraq now, it could turn into a haven for terrorists, as Afghanistan was before the fall of the Taliban. “To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September 11, 2001,” he said.

Saud, here for meetings with administration officials, blamed several U.S. decisions for the slide toward disintegration, though he did not refer to the Bush administration directly. Primary among them was designating “every Sunni as a Baathist criminal,” he said.

Saudi Arabia styles itself as the capital and protector of Sunni Islam, and the prince’s remarks were emblematic of the conflicted Saudi-American relationship.