"One can completely rule out the threat of a civil war," Jalal Talabani, the president, told reporters after a meeting of political parties discussing the formation of a unity government.

"The Iraqi people cannot accept a civil war. We are passing  through a difficult period right now, but the attachment of Iraqis to their country will prevent such a war," he said.

"We are a long way from a civil war and we are working towards a formula for a national accord."

In remarks to the BBC on the third anniversary of the US-led  invasion of Iraq, Allawi lamented that the country was in the midst of a civil war.

Allawi comments

"We are losing each day an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more... If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is"

Iyad Allawi, ex-prime minister 

"We are losing each day an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," he said. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Since parliamentary elections on 15 December, political parties have been wrangling over the formation of a new government.

The process took on new urgency with the 22 February  destruction of a Shia shrine in Samarra that sparked widespread revenge killings by Shia against Sunnis.

After the Samarra blast, Talabani himself addressed the nation on state television, warning Iraqis of the danger of civil war.