- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

KHARTOUM, Sudan — A top U.N. envoy urged Arab foreign ministers at a conference yesterday to work together to end Iraq’s political deadlock, while Iraqi and other Arab leaders squabbled over the role of Iran.

“Neighboring countries and the region are responsible for sending a clear message to the Iraqi people that they are supporting the political process in Iraq,” said Ashraf Qazi, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy in Iraq.

The ministers were in Sudan’s capital to prepare for a summit of Arab leaders tomorrow and Wednesday that will deal with violence in Iraq and the Palestinians’ formation of a new government, among other issues.

Mr. Qazi, who told reporters and editors at The Washington Times this month that the United Nations would raise its profile in Iraq, said yesterday that he hoped the summit would mark a turning point in supporting that country’s political process. Arab leaders “should send a strong message to the Iraqis that their brethren stand beside them and respect the diversity of the Iraqi people.”

Instead, however, the Arab countries’ fears of an increasing Iranian role in Iraq appeared to dominate the Arab League gathering.

On Saturday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari criticized Arab governments for doing little to help his country and said they should offer debt relief and reopen diplomatic missions in Baghdad. He warned that the Arabs’ lack of action was leaving a void that Iran might fill.

Iraq’s Shi’ite leaders frequently have expressed bitterness over the weak support shown for the country’s new leadership. They suggest other Arab nations with Sunni Muslim majorities are biased toward Iraq’s Sunni minority, which was in power during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Several Arab diplomats, who agreed yesterday to discuss the meeting only if granted anonymity, said Mr. Zebari squabbled on Saturday with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over proposed talks between the United States and Iran on how to stabilize Iraq.

Mr. Zebari would confirm only that some Arab officials expressed concerns over the influence of predominantly Shi’ite Iran in Iraq and complained about the planned Iranian-U.S. talks.

The other Arab diplomats said the Saudi and Emirates ministers complained that Arabs were being left in the dark about the talks. One diplomat who attended the sessions said Arab leaders wanted to know the dialogue’s objectives and whether Arab interests would be ignored.

A draft resolution on Iraq to be adopted at the summit “emphasizes the Arab role in the future of Iraq.”

It also calls for support for a reconciliation conference that the Arab League is trying to put together involving Iraq’s Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders in June. There has been no confirmation the conference will take place.

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