JERUSALEM, (AP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Arab allies to help support the fragile government in Iraq, on whose success much of President Bush’s new plan to turn the war around will depend.
Rice was meeting diplomats and leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Monday, a day after a similar session in Jordan.
The scheduled meetings with Sunni Arab leaders fell on the same day that Saddam Hussein’s half brother and the former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court were hanged in Iraq. The Sunni former Iraqi dictator’s chaotic execution two weeks ago incited Sunni anger and drew worldwide criticism.
The top U.S. diplomat is also meeting Tuesday with counterparts from eight Arab countries in Kuwait. Moderate Arab governments plan to tell Rice they will help Washington stabilize Iraq if the U.S. takes more active steps to revive a broad peace initiative between Israel and its neighbors, Arab officials and media said Sunday.
Jordanian King Abdullah II warned Rice that Iraqi political reconciliation would fail if Sunni Iraqis were not engaged in their country’s decision-making.
“Any political process that doesn’t ensure the participation of all segments of Iraqi society will fail and will lead to more violence,” Abdullah told Rice, according to a statement by his press office.
“As a key component of the Iraqi social fabric, the Iraqi Sunni community must be included as partners in building Iraq’s future,” said the king, a leading U.S. ally in the Mideast.
Along with other U.S. allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is concerned about the growing Shiite Muslim influence, stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The fear is that the hardline Tehran government will dominate the Mideast and give rise to more extremism, jeopardizing a Mideast settlement and threatening those nations.
Bush’s new strategy to send thousands more troops to Iraq met with strong skepticism across the Mideast, where many predicted that even with more soldiers, America would fail to break the cycle of violence.
Many saw the surge in troops as a desperate move that will only increase the United States’ failures in Iraq — and could deepen the sectarian divides in the war-fractured country, leading to more bloodshed.
There were deep doubts that U.S. troops, or the Shiite-led Iraqi government, would tackle what many in the Sunni-dominated Arab world see as the chief threat to Iraq: Shiite militias, blamed for fueling the cycle of sectarian slayings.
Mustafa al-Ani, a military analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said the American military has to take down the Shiite militias — particularly the most feared of them, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Otherwise, the U.S. will lose any support among Iraq’s Sunnis, he said.
“We want to see from Day One that the Americans search Sadr City,” Sadr’s stronghold in Baghdad, as diligently as they search Sunni insurgent troublespots, al-Ani said. “Otherwise I don’t see any chances for success.”
Al-Maliki has resisted U.S. pressure in the past to move against al-Sadr’s militia, but last week the prime minister pledged to crack down on the Mahdi Army.
Many in the Arab world profoundly distrust al-Maliki’s government, believing it is serving Iran’s interests at the expense of Sunnis. Bush’s plan depends heavily on al-Maliki to use Iraqi troops to crack down on militants from both sides and meet a series of benchmarks to promote reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites.
Arab allies have been asking the Bush administration to work harder for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, arguing that the lingering conflict undermines efforts to make progress on other Mideast problems, including in Iraq and Iran.
Arab officials said they will propose a broad bargain to Rice, dubbed “Iraq for Land.”
The deal reflects widespread Arab feeling that a lasting Middle East peace is impossible unless Israel agrees to hand over lands it occupied during the 1967 Mideast war to the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.
In Jordan, Abdullah told Rice that he wants Washington to apply as much diplomatic energy on the Israeli-Palestinian matter as on Iraq.
Abdullah “called on the United States to actively push for a revival of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state,” the Jordanian statement said.