More Sunni engagement in Iraq needed-Sweden’s Bildt

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sunni-led Arab states need to offer more support to the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government to give reconstruction efforts a chance to succeed, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Wednesday ahead of a conference on Iraq.

The Iraq Compact Annual Review convenes in Stockholm on Thursday to assess progress in implementing a peace and development plan to help rebuild Iraq more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

“I think there is a need for the Sunni states, the Arab Sunni states to increase their engagement with Iraq,” minister Carl Bildt told Reuters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will chair the conference in Stockholm, which brings together U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Iranian foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and senior officials from Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The United States has been pressing Sunni Arab governments to shore up the government of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by forgiving debts and opening diplomatic missions.

No ambassador from any Sunni-led Arab country has been stationed permanently in Baghdad since 2005. Arab governments cite security concerns.

Bildt’s comments came as Iraq’s main Sunni Arab political bloc, which quit the government in August, said it had suspended talks to rejoin the Maliki administration after a disagreement over a cabinet post.

He said he had recently raised with Saudi officials the issue of reopening of Riyadh’s embassy in Baghdad, adding that Sweden was in the process of doing that.

In addition to hosting Thursday’s conference, Sweden will hold bilateral meetings on Friday with Iraqi leaders, including the fate of thousands of Iraqi asylum seekers in Sweden.

Last year some 18,000 Iraqi asylum seekers came to Sweden and the country says it takes in more than the rest of the European Union and the United States put together.

“The human links (between Sweden and Iraq) are quite extensive, and that means that over time you will see this bilateral relationship expanding in different ways,” Bildt said.

Bildt said Sweden would explore with Iraq ways in which it could help diplomatically.

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