UN chief Kofi Annan has said that Iraq was already "almost" in a state of civil war or would soon be if drastic steps are not taken to halt the spiral of deadly sectarian violence there.
Asked by a reporter whether Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, the outgoing UN secretary general replied, "I think given the developments in the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there, in fact we are almost there."
Annan made the comments on Monday hours before he was due to confer with the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan US panel co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker, a Republican, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic lawmaker.
Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the discussions via a teleconference would be held at the request of the 10-member commission.
The panel favors launching direct talks with Iran and Syria on how to stabilise Iraq but is divided on whether to set a timetable for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, according to the New York Times.
It was tasked by US President George W Bush's administration with coming up with strategic options for Iraq.
Annan has long urged Washington to initiate a dialogue with Tehran and Damascus but Bush has so far refused.
The US president is to discuss the escalating violence in Iraq during talks in Amman with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday and Thursday.
The meeting will come less than a week after bloody car bomb attacks against Iraqi Shiites that killed more than 200 people in Baghdad and signaled a new escalation in sectarian violence.