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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqi Warns Against U.S. Troops Leaving

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi leaders warned on Monday that an early U.S. troop withdrawal could tip Iraq into all-out civil war after reports that debate was growing in the White House over a gradual scaling-down of forces.

The stark comments followed a wave of bombings and shootings in Iraq over the weekend that killed 250 people.

"This could produce a civil war, partition of the country and a regional war. We might see the country collapse," Iraq's Kurdish minister of foreign affairs, Hoshiyar Zebari, told a news conference when asked about the New York Times report.

Citing administration officials and consultants, the newspaper said these officials feared the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq strategy were "collapsing around them."

It said debate was intensifying over whether Bush should try to prevent more Republican defections by announcing intentions for a gradual pull-out of troops from high-casualty areas.

More than 330 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq during the April-June quarter, making it the deadliest three months for U.S. troops since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Overall, 3,606 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died.

Iraqi officials said the country's own security forces were not ready and warned that a premature withdrawal of some of the 157,000 U.S. troops could produce a security vacuum.

"We in Iraq believe -- not just the government, but all political parties -- that the presence of these forces is necessary to prevent increasing violence and to stop the country sliding into civil war," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, said: "I would be very happy to see the last American soldier leave today. ... We understand their worry about not seeing much political progress in Iraq. But the problem is: who will fill the security vacuum if these forces withdraw?"

Hashemi repeated his comments from Sunday that Iraqis had the right to take up arms to defend themselves in the wake of unrelenting violence that threatens to tear the country apart.