Iraq risks descending into "Syria-like chaos" if its political class fails to unite and agree on a government, the United Nations envoy to Baghdad told AFP on Thursday.
Nickolay Mladenov urged Iraq's leaders to press on with a political process that involves selecting a parliament speaker, a president and finally a prime minister, but admitted that tensions were worse than during the peak of the country's all-out sectarian war in 2006.
"If Iraq does not follow its constitutional political process, what is the alternative?" Mladenov said in an interview from his Baghdad office.
"It risks descending into a Syria-like chaos. And that is what people really need to understand, very very quickly."
The Bulgarian former foreign and defence minister said that if Iraq's leaders did not stick to established political processes, they were in "uncharted territories".
His remarks come with a jihadist-led offensive having overrun swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and heaping pressure on incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
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Militants led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group overran the main northern city of Mosul on June 10, and then took control of several other towns and cities as the Iraqi security forces wilted.
Soldiers and policemen have since performed more capably, albeit with mixed results on offensive operations.
"Iraq will never be the same as before Mosul," Mladenov said. "There is no way that this country can go back."
Addressing the country's politicians, he said: "The writing is on the wall, so put your differences aside, your personal ambitions. There will be a time to deal with those later. Now is the time in which you need to figure out how to save the country."
The UN envoy's comments came just days after a farcical opening session of parliament following April elections which included lawmakers threatening each other, several walk-outs and confusion over key constitutional rules.
The session ended in disarray without MPs selecting a parliament speaker, and with a new meeting scheduled for July 8.
"They need to understand that the 8th of July deadline is really a deadline," Mladenov said.