UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the international community to re-engage Iraq and its neighbours to help rebuild the war-torn country, saying the alternative could be civil war.
"Peace in Iraq will ultimately depend on domestic and regional cooperation," Annan told the first formal meeting of the so-called International Compact with Iraq, which aims to get more countries involved in Iraq's reconstruction.
"The international community may not be able to ensure Iraq's success, but it can guarantee failure if it does not come through in time with sufficient support," he said on Monday at the meeting, attended by the five UN Security Council permanent members—the US, Russia, China, France and Britain.
"There is a grave danger that the Iraqi state will break down possibly in the midst of a full scale civil war," he added.
Annan's comments echoed remarks last month by US General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, who warned that sectarian violence in Iraq could lead to a civil war unless it is stopped.
But US President George W Bush has rebuffed such comparisons, saying the conflict in Iraq was sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims that involves only "a small number of people".
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also addressed the UN gathering, pledging that Baghdad would work to build an efficient and accountable Iraqi security force and uphold the rule of law.
The compact, launched in July, received support from the US and other UN members and was first discussed in Abu Dhabi last week by Iraqi and some Arab officials who began to give it some direction and content.
Annan urged the drawing up of the compact to be completed by the year-end.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown co-chair the compact. EU and Arab League officials also attended the meeting at the UN headquarters.
Talabani reiterated that Iraq would not allow its territory or resources to be used against the interests of any of its neighbours and will not allow interference in its internal affairs.
The compact provides the opportunity for international cooperation with Baghdad to rebuild the war-torn country. Annan said the compact also provides "the framework for a defined, prioritised and benchmarked economic programme for the next five years".