Sunday, October 02, 2005

AP Wire | 10/02/2005 | Iraq rejects Saudi charge of Iran meddling

AP Wire | 10/02/2005 | Iraq rejects Saudi charge of Iran meddling: "Iraq rejects Saudi charge of Iran meddling

SALAH NASRAWI
Associated Press
CAIRO, Egypt - Iraq angrily rejected Saudi Arabian allegations of increasing Iranian involvement in Iraq, as Arab foreign ministers gathered on Sunday to discuss a pan-Arab strategy to help restore stability to the war-torn country.

Top American diplomats, meanwhile, have stepped up efforts with Arab officials to involve them with endeavors to convince Iraqi Sunni Arabs to accept Iraq's contentious constitution.

In a sign of rising tensions, Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a powerful member of the Shiite-led government, disputed Saudi accusations that Iran now dominates Iraq, instead accusing the Saudis of being "tyrants" who discriminate against their own Shiites.

Iraq's Sunni-dominated neighbors, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have expressed concern that too much influence from Iran could empower Iraq's majority Shiites and cause a political shift in the region, including a possible split of the country into a Kurdish north, a Sunni center and a Shiite south.

The vast majority of Muslims in the Arab world are Sunnis; in Iraq they are a 20 percent minority.

Last week the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, criticized the United States, saying its strategy in Iraq had deepened sectarianism to the extent that Iraq was effectively being handed over to Iran, its eastern, Shiite-led neighbor.

Both the United States and Iran dismissed Prince Saud's charges last week, and Jabr on Sunday also rejected them, calling the Saudis "tyrants who think they are king and God."

"Saudi Arabia has other motives to launch such accusations," he said. "Saudi Arabia has its own problems. There are 4 million Shiites who are treated as third-class citizens."

That evening, Prince Saud repeated the accusations, without naming Iran, in his opening speech to the foreign ministers' meeting in the Saudi city of Jiddah.

"History will not forgive Iraq's neighbors who have exploited Iraq's misery for their shortsighted interest," he said.

Arab foreign ministers were meeting in Jiddah to discuss "an Arab strategy to help the Iraqi people," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in Cairo before the meeting.

On Saturday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Arabs should help Iraq to crush its insurgency if they want to stop Iran from interfering there.

He urged Arabs to stop describing the insurgents as "resistance fighters," saying such terms amounted to incitement.

Arab diplomats in Cairo said the ministers are expected to urge Iraqi Sunni Arabs to accept a final draft of the constitution worked out through last-ditch efforts by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad met Saudi King Abdullah in Jiddah on Saturday night to brief the king on his efforts. Later he flew to the United Arab Emirates for similar talks.

Iraq's Sunni leaders are mobilizing to defeat the constitution in the Oct. 15 referendum.

In Cairo, another top American diplomat, James Jeffery, the State Department coordinator on Iraq, made similar efforts with Moussa and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Sunni-dominated Arab countries have expressed concern that the draft constitution gives too much weight to Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions. They say it greatly increases the powers of Iraq's Kurds and Shiites while marginalizing the Sunni minority.

In another source of friction between Iraq and its neighbors, Arab nations have been hesitant to send ambassadors to Baghdad, particularly after the al-Qaida in Iraq terror group kidnapped and killed top diplomats from Egypt and Algeria in July."

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