BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Iraq won’t participate in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on efforts to stabilize the country because of comments by Egypt’s president questioning the loyalty of Shiites, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Tuesday.
During an interview with Al-Arabiya television aired Saturday, President Hosni Mubarak angered Iraqi leaders by saying Shiites in Iraq and the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. He also said Iraq was on the brink of civil war.
“We have taken a decision not to participate in the conference” Wednesday, al-Jaafari said after criticizing Mubarak’s comments.
Mubarak’s remarks reflected a concern among Arab nations that Iran has too much influence in Iraq and that its Shiite-majority Islamic theocracy could spill over onto into their largely Sunni countries. Iraq is one of the few Arab countries with a Shiite majority like Iran.
“Definitely Iran has influence for Shiites,” Mubarak said in the interview. “Shiites are 65 percent of the Iraqis. … Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in,” he added.
Al-Jaafari, who is a Shiite, complained the Egyptians had still not provided a satisfactory explanation for the comments. He said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari would not take part in the Cairo meeting.
“Shiite societies differ from one country to another,” al-Jaafari said in a nationally televised news conference. “Every Shiite society has its unique characteristics. I am surprised that this confusion would occur among intellectuals, especially a man with such stature as the president of the biggest Arab country.”
Al-Jaafari said he hoped “this mistake can be corrected.”
“We take pride in our Iraqi identity. This means we respect the other identities,” al-Jaafari said. “It is a strange thing that such comments would come from a country that we respect and appreciate. We cannot allow ourselves to be part of a country other than Iraq and we don’t allow anyone to accuse us of such.”
Egyptian officials said the meeting of Arab foreign ministers planned for Wednesday to discuss Iraq would go ahead despite the absence of Baghdad’s foreign minister.
“This has happened before, when meetings were held without the Iraqi brothers,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.
Hundreds of Iraqis marched Tuesday in the southern city of Basra to protest Mubarak’s remarks.
“No to Mubarak, yes to al-Jaafari,” the protesters chanted, carrying Iraqi flags and posters of al-Jaafari and the top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
“Mubarak is a U.S. agent,” they shouted.