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Jordan's king sees potential for three civil wars in Mideast

Urges strong step to prevent a crisis

WASHINGTON -- Jordan's King Abdullah II, who will host President Bush this week during emergency talks on Iraq, said yesterday that the Middle East faced 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 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq. "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 is in Iraq, Abdullah said he's more worried about 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 a 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 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, anarchy or civil war, the Bush administration is reaching out to traditional Arab allies in an effort to help stem the violence. Vice President Dick Cheney flew this weekend to Saudi Arabia for three hours of talks with its King Abdullah, and Bush and Maliki are scheduled to meet in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday for crisis talks.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Sunni Arab nations close to the United States have voiced concern about Shi'ite Iran's growing influence, and its involvement in all three regional conflicts. Many Iraqi leaders, as well as Shi'ite 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 American withdrawal from Iraq, a development that some believe could lead to a regional war between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Also on "This Week," Senators Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, voiced frustration with Iraq's leaders. Durbin said the United States should tell Maliki to disband the largely Shi'ite militias and death squads and to govern the country "in a responsible fashion" or face an eventual American withdrawal. Brownback said he opposed setting any timetable for withdrawing troops, but that "I think what we've got to do is go around the Maliki government in certain situations."

Jordan's Abdullah said as well that the Maliki government had to improve immediately and become more inclusive.

"They need to do it now, because, obviously, as we're seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control," he said. "There needs to be some very strong action taken on the ground there today."

On CNN's "Late Edition," Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, cast the conflict as one against extremism. He said Islamic movements around the region were sending funds and fighters to Iraq to take on the government and the American forces.

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