Egypt, Saudi Arabia warn reconciliation in Iraq crucial for new strategy

CAIRO (AP) — Reconciliation and national unity in Iraq are necessary for the success of US President George W. Bush’s new strategy for the war-torn country, Egypt and Saudi Arabia warned.

Spiralling sectarian violence in Iraq has left many Arab officials fearful of a widescale conflict pitting Sunnis against Shiites.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Gulf countries — all dominated by Sunnis — are increasingly suspicious of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government and worry it is becoming a pawn of Shiite Muslim Iran. Some Arab officials fear Maliki’s Shiite-led government is sidelining Iraq’s Sunni minority that ruled there under Saddam Hussein.

Egyptian presidential spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, told reporters Saturday that Egypt wants “everybody to comprehend … that a national reconciliation is the necessary condition and obligation for this process to succeed.” A change in US policy towards Iraq was inevitable, said Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal.

“Unity of Iraq is necessary, independence of Iraq is necessary and peace in Iraq is necessary,” Faisal said.

“None of these have been achieved so far. There must be a change, of course.” The comments were the first official response by the two regional heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to Bush’s call on moderate Arab countries for stepped up support to the Iraqi government.

In the address in the United States on Wednesday, Bush announced his decision to send 21,500 more US troops to Iraq to try to stabilise the country but also warned Arab countries against a surge in extremism in the region should America fail in Iraq.

“Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists — and a strategic threat to their survival,” Bush had said in his speech.

“These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbours — and they must step up their support for Iraq’s unity government.” On Friday, Bush sought support for the plan in telephone calls to King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Awwad stressed that national reconciliation will not be achieved unless “all Iraqi sons get united, denounce their sectarian conflicts.” “Alienating a certain sect while defending interests of other sects will not achieve national reconciliation,” the Egyptian spokesman added, in a veiled criticism of the Maliki government, which Egypt perceives as having anti-Sunni policies.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with Italian counterpart Massimo D’Alema, Faisal said he was looking forward to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Saudi Arabia for talks about the new Bush strategy. He urged for the opening of dialogue with all Iraq’s groups without prejudice.

It is important “to deal with all aspects of the Iraqi society, with all its sects, political groups — all should be equal in rights, duties and sharing of national riches,” Faisal said.

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