Jordan Fears Three Middle East Civil Wars

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

Jordan's King Abdullah, who will host President Bush this week during emergency talks on Iraq, said yesterday that the Middle East faces the prospect of three simultaneous civil wars erupting.

"We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon, or of Iraq," the Jordanian king said on ABC's "This Week."

He said that as a result, "something dramatic" had to come out of this week's Amman meetings between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007," he told interviewer George Stephanopoulos.

However dire the situation in Iraq, Abdullah said he's more worried about the escalating violence in Lebanon and the battles between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"When it comes to things exploding out of control, I would put today, as we stand, Palestine and probably a close tie with Lebanon," he said. "Iraq, funny enough, although as concerned as I am with Iraq and the major problems that might bring to us, is in third position."

The United States, he said, needs to look at the "total picture" and be ready to talk with all parties in the area -- including Syria and Iran -- about a wide range of issues.

"We can possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands," Abdullah said. "And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear."

With parts of Iraq approaching, or already in, a state of anarchy or civil war, the Bush administration is reaching out to traditional Arab allies in an effort to help stem the violence. Vice President Cheney flew to Saudi Arabia this weekend for three hours of talks with its King Abdullah. Bush was briefed yesterday by Cheney about his trip to Saudi Arabia and by other administration officials about the status of their Iraq policy initiatives. Aides said the meeting was not intended to be a decision-making session. Bush is to leave today for a NATO summit before flying to Jordan to meet with Maliki for crisis talks Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, the 10-member Iraq Study Group will meet today and Tuesday in Washington. A discussion about regional diplomacy is expected to be on the agenda.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni Arab nations with close ties to the United States have voiced concern about Shiite Iran's growing influence and its involvement in the three regional conflicts. Many Iraqi leaders, as well as Shiite militants there, have close ties with Iran, which also provides funds and support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The rising power of Iran has the governments especially concerned about any possible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a development that some think could lead to a regional war between Sunnis and Shiites.

Also on "This Week," Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) voiced frustration with Iraq's leaders. Durbin said that the United States should tell Maliki to disband the largely Shiite militias and death squads, and to govern the country "in a responsible fashion" or face an eventual U.S. withdrawal. Brownback said that he opposes setting a timetable for withdrawing troops, but that "I think what we've got to do is go around the Maliki government in certain situations."

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