DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Former secretary of state Colin Powell said yesterday at a business conference here that the war in Iraq "could be considered a civil war," the conference organizer said.
Powell made the comment during a question-and-answer session after a keynote speech, according to David Hellaby, who organized the "Leaders in Dubai Business Forum." Hellaby was present and issued a press release quoting Powell.
Powell could not be immediately reached for comment. Hellaby said Powell was leaving Dubai immediately after yesterday's conference.
The retired general's comments come in sharp contrast to those of President Bush, who said Tuesday that Iraq is not in a civil war. Bush blamed Al Qaeda extremists for the daily violence there. Bush said Iraqis had "a chance to fall apart and they didn't."
The issue has become the focus of intense political debate in the United States in recent days. Powell is a retired general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was secretary of state during Bush's first term in office.
During his speech, Hellaby said, Powell said the Iraq war had three phases.
The first, the invasion phase, went as planned. But the second phase, the military occupation, was "badly handled," Powell said, according to the conference organizer.
Mistakes during the second phase led to the third, "which could be considered a civil war," Powell told the conference, according to Hellaby.
In Washington yesterday, senior defense officials said the Pentagon is developing plans to send four more battalions of US troops to Iraq early next year to boost security in Baghdad.
The extra combat engineer battalions of reserves to be sent to Baghdad would total about 3,500 troops, officials said. They said the units would come from around the United States and have already done a tour in Iraq, but they said there has been no final decision on which battalions will go.
As violence continues to rise in Baghdad, Bush is under growing pressure to craft an exit strategy that would withdraw a substantial number of US troops from Iraq, while shifting more responsibility to the Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission looking into Iraq war policy, said it will release its report on Dec. 6.
The commission, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana, is widely expected to call for regional talks as part of its recommendations for a way forward in Iraq, including involvement by Syria and Iran.
The Bush administration has been reluctant to engage those two countries, which it says have abetted the violence in Iraq.
Hamilton said the commission reached a consensus yesterday on its recommendations, but he declined to disclose any specifics.
The New York Times reported in today's editions that the panel reached a compromise under which it would recommend that the United States gradually withdraw its 15 combat brigades from the country.
The panel declined to set a specific timetable but called on the administration to make it clear that withdrawals would begin soon, The Times said, citing people close to the panel's deliberations.
The commission -- five Democrats and five Republicans -- was formed by Congress to recommend a new course for Iraq. Its recommendations are nonbinding.
There are 139,000 US troops in Iraq, with some 20,000 in and around Baghdad.