London/Damascus, Asharq Al-Awsat- A source close to Dr. Adel Abdel-Mahdi, Vice President of Iraq and leading member of the Supreme Islamic Council, headed by Ammar al-Hakim, revealed that he discussed, during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus yesterday, “the need to activate the initiative proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, seeking to bring together the Iraqi political parties in Riyadh, after the Hajj pilgrimage, under the auspices of the Arab League”.
The source told Asharq al-Awsat, via a telephone interview from Damascus, that Abdel-Mahdi “informed the Syrian President of the importance of this initiative, which does not conflict with the initiative [proposed by the] President of the Kurdistan Region, Masud Barzani”. The source said that Abdel-Mahdi, who has been nominated as a Prime Ministerial candidate by the Iraqi National Coalition, headed by Ammar al-Hakim, “discussed the latest developments in the political situation with President al-Assad, and reaffirmed that the Supreme Islamic Council does not wish to form a government with Nuri al-Maliki (leader of the State of Law coalition and Prime Minister of the outgoing government). He also stated that he considers the Saudi royal initiative to be a way out of the political crisis in Iraq”. The source added that Abdel-Mahdi claimed the initiative was “dignified, in the interests of the Iraqi people, and sincere”.
In comments following his meeting with President al-Assad, and Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa, Abdel-Mahdi described the meeting with the Syrian President as “excellent”. He stressed that Syria has “a major role to play in resolving the Iraqi issue, by consulting with both Iraqi and regional parties”. He also touched upon King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s initiative, saying “there have been positive responses both in the Iraqi community, and in the surrounding region”. Abdel-Mahdi confirmed that “the government formation that we require in Iraq is one of national partnership. The government must be a success and not a repeat of the experiences of the past four years”.
Furthermore, the Syrian President [Bashar al-Assad] has called for the acceleration of the formation of “a government of national unity, with the support of the Iraqi people, in order to be able to restore security and stability to Iraq”, reiterating Syria’s support for “all that the Iraqis agree upon”. Al-Assad also “strongly” condemned the bombings that targeted Baghdad the day before yesterday, and the terrorist incident at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, last Sunday, affirming that “the Syrian people stand side by side with the Iraqi people, in the face of terrorism”.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said at a press conference yesterday: “We have received, with great interest, the generous initiative from the King of Saudi Arabia. It is an admirable initiative with good intentions, to serve the people of Iraq”. Zebari clarified at the conference “the Arabs, and Saudi Arabia, understand that the formation of government is an internal affair, but this initiative could help in urging the Iraqi leaders to be more positive”. However, he added “we, [as members of] the government, were surprised by this initiative, because it we had not been briefed in advance, and we heard about it through the media”, adding that “we did not receive an official letter”.
For his part, Amr Musa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, yesterday described the Saudi initiative as “positive”. Regarding the efforts to form the Iraqi government, Musa clarified that he held telephone consultations with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, to discuss the subject. He also indicated that he yesterday spoke with outgoing Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki, and Foreign Minister Zebari, and had also held a phone call the day before yesterday with Abdel-Mahdi. In addition to this, he will contact the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and he has also met with the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barham Salih.