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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 20:10 GMT
Talabani hopeful on US-Iran talks
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani
Mr Talabani says civil war in Iraq is a low risk
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has welcomed the prospect of talks between the US and Iran over Iraq.

He rejected comments that civil war is already raging in Iraq, but said it had come close after the destruction of a Shia shrine in Samarra last month.

He also told the BBC he is optimistic a new government can be formed within two weeks - or four at the most.

He said all parties had reached agreement on many points which would also diminish the threat of civil war.

However, Mr Talabani said another incident like Samarra would be dangerous and would lead to more bloodshed.

But he said he believed the risk was currently low.

Mr Talabani's comments contrast sharply with those of the former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more - if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is
Iyad Allawi
Former Iraq PM

Mr Allawi told the BBC Iraq was already in the grip of a civil war that could tear it apart, although Iraq had not got to the point of no return.

The UK and US have repeatedly denied Iraq is facing a civil war, but Mr Allawi suggested there was no other way to describe the sectarian violence.

President Talabani also welcomed the news that Iran and America were considering talking about their differences over Iraq.

He said if the two countries could set aside their differences, that would help Iraq very much.

The US has expressed scepticism about Iran's recent offer to discuss Iraq, but the two sides are said to be seeking a date to begin their first public talks since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Meanwhile, at least 12 people have been killed in a series of violent incidents in the north of the country.

Cycle of reprisals

Analysts say Iyad Allawi's comments are part of political manoeuvring as talks continue over creation of a government.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The country may not be in a state of civil war but it is certainly a country in serious conflict
Tom McLaughlan, Western Isles, United Kingdom

There has been a cycle of sectarian reprisals and revenge killings between Sunnis and Shias.

The destruction of the Shia shrine at Samarra on 22 February made some observers wonder if the country was heading towards civil conflict.

In other incidents across the country on Sunday:

  • US-led Operation Swarmer, against insurgents and foreign fighters near Samarra, is now into its fourth day

  • Police say that at least eight civilians - including a woman and a child - were killed when US forces opened fire after coming under attack in the town of Dhuluiya, north of Baghdad

  • Gunmen kill three Iraqi police in the northern town of Mosul

  • Two bomb attacks kill a policeman and wound 12 other people in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad

  • There are reports of a mortar shell exploding in the southern city of Karbala as Shias gather for one of the biggest events of their religious calendar. No casualties are reported.



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