Archive for Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Arab leaders haven’t warmed to new authorities in Iraq

March 29, 2006

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— Embattled at home, Iraq's U.S.-backed government also is having trouble winning respect - much less support - from Arab neighbors, who still don't consider it legitimate or sovereign, several delegates said Tuesday at an Arab summit in the Sudanese capital.

Nearly three years since Saddam Hussein's ouster, skepticism about the new Iraqi leadership remains one of the chief reasons that no Arab nation has an ambassador in Baghdad and the Arab League has yet to open the office there that it promised long ago.

The lack of an Arab presence took on greater importance with the announcement of plans for Iranian-American talks on Iraq. Fearing that Arabs would be sidelined even more in a war that's sending shockwaves through the region, delegates at the summit drew up resolutions that stressed the protection of "Arab interests" in Iraq and renewed promises to send Middle Eastern envoys.

"Iraq used to be a strong Arab country," said Nancy Bakeer, the assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, adding that many Arabs had no idea of the former regime's atrocities until Saddam fell. "Now we are discovering different faces of Iraq, and we never knew it was such a mosaic. ... But, of course, for any change there is great resistance."

Iraq's new mainly Shiite Muslim and Kurdish leaders are closer to Shiite, Persian Iran than they are to the rest of the Middle East's leadership, which is a fairly homogenous collection of monarchs and authoritarians who, like Saddam, are Sunni Muslim Arabs.

Many of those rulers are fearful of Iraq's ties to Iran, bitter over the presence of thousands of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, dubious about the fairness of the three post-Saddam elections and shocked at the government's failure to stem ethnic bloodletting.

At the Arab summit this week, delegates graciously received the Iraqi party, trading customary kisses on the cheek and whispering prayers for an end to the violence. But when approached by reporters asking whether they supported the Shiite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad, delegates chose their words carefully and quickly excused themselves.

"Iraq is simply another Arab country that was occupied, and at some point the Shiites and Kurds helped with that," said a senior Arab diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "But we're trying to deal with the current Iraqi government."

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