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Civil War in Iraq Near, Annan Says

The group, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), hopes to issue its recommendations before Congress adjourns next month. Although deliberations are secret, the five Republicans and five Democrats are exploring ideas that include a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Some Democrats on the panel favor a plan by congressional Democrats to name a date to begin withdrawal, as a way to pressure Iraqis to show more leadership. Members of the board were divided, however, over how many troops and how fast to withdraw, sources close to the group said.

President Bush is due to meet with Maliki on Thursday in Jordan to review the situation. "We're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phase, and these two leaders need to be talking about how to do that," Hadley told reporters.

He said he expects the two leaders to discuss whether Washington should talk to Iran and Syria, although he thinks Maliki, not Bush, will raise the issue. Maliki has "strong views," he added, that any conversation with Syria and Iran "ought to be a conversation by Iraqis."

In a subtle nod to the Iraq Study Group, Hadley said that the president plans to listen to the range of voices for ideas but that Bush will reassure Maliki the president "will be crafting the way forward on Iraq" primarily in collaboration with Baghdad.

But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. "That's the price you're going to have to pay," he said.

The United States also needs to reexamine other basic assumptions, he said. To be effective, for example, the Iraqi security forces -- including army and police -- should be roughly doubled from the current goal of 325,000 to about 650,000, which would require about three years of recruiting and training, he said. The expanded military, he added, would probably become overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurdish -- an outcome that many Sunnis fear.

The United States also needs to deal quickly with a serious problem of overcrowded prisons that has led the government to free about 2,000 fighters each month to make room for new prisoners, he said. Those released are not scofflaws, he said: "These are the hard-core guys."

The intelligence official said that he "never saw any evidence" that Sadr's organization sent personnel to Lebanon this summer to fight against Israel, but said he had heard talk that some were sent there to be trained by Lebanese members of Hezbollah, an organization funded by Iran's Shiite government.

He said there was evidence that the Iranian government this year had escalated its efforts inside Iraq.

"The whole year, yes, it has stepped up," he said. "More training in and out of Iraq. More coordination with Hezbollah. More advisers."

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