U.S. ‘must win’ war in Iraq, ally says

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David R. Sands

An abrupt U.S. pull­out from Iraq would have dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the re­gion and could cre­ate a haven of ter­ror­ists, Bahrain’s am­bas­sador to the United States, Naser M.Y. Al Belooshi, warned in an in­ter­view on Dec. 18.

The un­usu­ally blunt mes­sage came from one of the United States’ clos­est al­lies in the Arab world, one that has long cul­ti­vated close ties with Wash­ing­ton and hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

“The big­gest risk from our point of view is that Amer­ica would just pull out be­fore the Iraqis have the abil­ity to de­fend them­selves,” Mr. Al Belooshi told edi­tors and re­porters at The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Iraq would be­come a good place for ter­ror­ists to use as a base. You have to win this war.”

Like Iraq, Bahrain has a Shi’ite Mus­lim ma­jor­ity that has his­tor­i­cally been ruled po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally by a Sunni Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. Mod­er­ate Sunni Arab regimes across the re­gion have watched the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in Iraq with grow­ing dis­may, fear­ful that the Shi’ite-Sunni sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence could spread.

Bahraini King Ha­mad bin Isa Al Khal­ifa has pressed for closer ties with the United States while steadily per­mit­ting greater demo­cratic free­doms at home.

But Shi’ite and Sunni Is­lamist par­ties were the big win­ners in elec­tions for the king­dom’s 40seat lower house over the past month, and the Shi’ite op­po­si­tion Is­lamic Na­tional Ac­cord As­so­ci­a­tion boy­cotted the open­ing ses­sions of the new par­lia­ment last week to press for more seats in the Cabi­net.

The am­bas­sador said the big di­vi­sion in the re­gion is be­tween moder­ates and ex­trem­ists of all sects, not be­tween Sun­nis and Shi’ites.

“There is much more in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Sunni and Shias in Bahrain than you see in Iraq,” he said. “I frankly don’t see a schism on re­li­gious lines be­cause the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are open.”

“The peo­ple who have been elected in Bahrain are some- times Is­lamists, but they are not ex­trem­ists,” he added.

Mr. Al Belooshi ac­knowl­edged that the U.S. im­age had suf­fered across the Arab world in the af­ter­math of the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks. But he said pub­lic opin­ion in Bahrain turned against the United States in re­ac­tion to spe­cific events, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scan­dal, and was not a gen­er­al­ized re­jec­tion of U.S. and West­ern val­ues.

“There should be more work done on Amer­ica’s im­age, but this fluc­tu­ates. It is not a con­stant,” he said.

Bahrain, he said, would wel­come im­proved U.S. ties and in­creased U.S. in­vest­ment. The is­land king­dom was the only Arab state to con­trib­ute troops to an Oc­to­ber naval ex­er­cise in the Per­sian Gulf by the U.S.-backed Pro­lif­er­a­tion Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive.

The ex­er­cise, which in­cluded U.S., Bri­tish, Ital­ian, French and Aus­tralian forces, was strongly con­demned by Iran, the ris­ing Shi’ite power in the re­gion in the wake of the Iraq war.

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