Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion en­lists aid of Iraq’s Sunni neigh­bors

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Jon Ward

The White House said it has per­suaded Iraq’s neigh­bors to help sta­bi­lize the coun­try’s sec­tar­ian fight­ing, but has not given many de­tails about what th­ese Sunni-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ments will do to back Iraq’s Shi’ite-led gov­ern­ment.

“What we are look­ing for is our al­lies in the re­gion to be con­trib­u­tors to build­ing a stable Iraq,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said on May 16.

Mr. Snow would not dis­cuss any is­sues raised by Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, who vis­ited lead­ers in Saudi Ara­bia, Jor­dan, Egypt and the United Arab Emi­rates two weeks ago. He said that do­ing so would “un­der­mine” the vice pres­i­dent’s mis­sion.

He did, how­ever, point to deb­tre­lief talks at a con­fer­ence in Egypt ear­lier this month as proof that “Sunni gov­ern­ments did step up in sup­port of the gov­ern­ment of Iraq.”

Nei­ther Saudi Ara­bia nor Kuwait — two Sunni coun­tries that are owed bil­lions of dol­lars by Iraq stem­ming from Bagh­dad’s war with Iran in the 1980s — has made a fi­nal agree­ment to for­give or re­duce Iraq’s debts.

Saudi Ara­bia, how­ever, has promised to re­duce the debt by 80 per­cent.

Mid­dle East an­a­lysts said Iraq’s neigh­bors have rea­son to be hes­i­tant in sup­port­ing the Iraqi gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki.

All of the coun­tries Mr. Cheney vis­ited are led by Sun­nidom­i­nated gov­ern­ments that fear Mr. al-Ma­liki’s gov­ern­ment may be too closely aligned with Iran, a Shi’ite-led gov­ern­ment.

Be­cause of this per­cep­tion, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is “fac- ing a pretty up­hill strug­gle” in get­ting Iraq’s neigh­bors to sup- port Iraq’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment, said Bruce Riedel, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

“Most of the Sunni gov­ern­ments in the re­gion are fol­low­ing the Saudi lead. And the Saudis have not shown a lot of in­ter­est in sup­port­ing the Ma­liki gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Iraq’s neigh­bors also are ner­vous that a Shi’ite-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment would sup­press and even slaugh­ter Sun­nis when U.S. troops leave the re­gion.

Even with the pres­ence of U.S. troops, sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence be­tween Sun­nis, who were in power un­der dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein, and Shi’ites, who were re­pressed and mas­sa­cred by Sad­dam, has been fierce.

Wayne White, an ad­junct scholar at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute, said the ris­ing pace of sec­tar­ian killings may be one rea­son to adopt the idea of di­vid­ing Iraq into sec­tions for the Sun­nis, Shi’ites and Kurds.

“The coun­try is di­vid­ing it­self up,” said Mr. White, who did not sup­port the di­vi­sion un­til the sec­tar­ian killings in­creased in the past year.

The hope seems to be, Mr. Riedel said, for a strong­man sim­i­lar to Sad­dam to emerge and unite Sun­nis un­der an iron-fisted rule again.

“But I think that is a very dif­fi­cult sale for the United States to buy into, since Ma­liki was elected un­der a demo­cratic sys­tem that we sup­ported and we pushed Iraq to pur­sue,” Mr. Riedel said.

Na­tional Se­cur ity Coun­cil spokesman Gor­don John­droe said it is im­por­tant for Iraq’s neigh­bors to sup­port the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment.

“It’s the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment of Iraq, and it needs to be given the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver for its peo­ple.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

An Iraqi boy walks be­tween tents erected for dis­placed res­i­dents of vi­o­lent Diyala prov­ince, north­east of Bagh­dad, on May 15.

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