Iraqi am­bas­sador slams U.S. arms sales, pre­dicts Mideast back­lash

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Betsy Pisik

NEW YORK — Iraq’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions on Aug. 2 crit­i­cized a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion plan to sell heavy mil­i­tary equip­ment and weapons to Is­rael and se­lect Arab coun­tries, say­ing the sale would only in­crease re­gional sup­port for Iran.

“This re­minds me of when they armed Sad­dam to the teeth un­til 1980, and he started the war [with Iran] and it was dev­as­tat­ing for the re­gion, for ev­ery­body,” said Am­bas­sador Hamid al-Bay­ati in an in­ter­view. He said the same weapons later were used to in­vade Kuwait and in fight­ing U.S. and in­ter­na­tional troops.

The arms pack­age, an­nounced last week and val­ued at more than $60 bil­lion, was widely seen as a bid to bol­ster Is­rael and mod­er­ate Arab states that feel threat­ened by the grow­ing power of Iran and its al­lies.

But Mr. al-Bay­ati said a num­ber of Arab and Mus­lim en­voys fear the Arab pub­lic will see it as an at­tempt to di­vide Mus­lims against each other and turn their sym­pa­thies to­ward Tehran.

The sale also bol­sters mainly Sunni-led gov­ern­ments, many of which are sus­pi­cious of the Shi’iteled ad­min­is­tra­tion that Mr. al-Bay­ati rep­re­sents. Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Ara­bia both are re­ported to be chan­nel­ing aid and vol­un­teers to ri­val Iraqi mili­tias.

De­spite the ten­sions, Saudi Ara- bia re­cently pro­posed to open a Bagh­dad em­bassy for the first time since the ouster of dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein, a step that Mr. alBay­ati wel­comed.

“An em­bassy will al­low them to see what is re­ally go­ing on in Iraq, to taste it, to talk di­rectly to peo­ple,” he said. Of the nearly 50 for­eign em­bassies in Bagh­dad, he said, not a sin­gle Arab state is rep­re­sented by a full-fledged am­bas­sador.

But the am­bas­sador crit­i­cized Saudi Ara­bia over its re­lease of two let­ters pur­port­edly writ­ten by Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki and in­ter­cepted by the Saudis.

The first let­ter, dated Jan. 14, warned mil­i­tant cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr to hide a dozen of his Mahdi Army mili­tia lead­ers be­fore the U.S. surge; the sec­ond, dated March 2 and ad­dressed to Iran, warned that the Amer­i­cans were plan­ning to go af­ter mem­bers of Tehran’s elite Al Quds Force in Iraq.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment both have dis­missed the let­ters as fakes, say­ing the sig­na­tures are iden­ti­cal and there­fore can only be pho­to­copies. But the Saudis con­tinue to treat them as real, cit­ing them as ev­i­dence that the Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment backs anti-Sunni mili­tias.

“I don’t un­der­stand how they can keep say­ing they think th­ese let­ters are au­then­tic,” said Mr. alBay­ati, who dis­missed them as the work of in­sur­gents.

Nev­er­the­less, he said, “Saudi Ara­bia def­i­nitely can play a pos­i­tive role in Iraq,” not­ing that the king­dom al­ready is tak­ing steps to fos­ter peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans.

“It has the holi­est places in the world for Mus­lims, they have oil money, and they can in­flu­ence with their money. Now they are play­ing a po­lit­i­cal role, al­though some­times it is not so clear what they are do­ing,” he said.

Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, ac­knowl­edged hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment about the two let­ters but re­fused to char­ac­ter­ize the dis­cus­sions.

He also con­firmed that Saudi Ara­bian cit­i­zens are among those who have been ar­rested in Iraq as for­eign fight­ers or ter­ror­ists.

“They are not com­ing from the Saudi Ara­bian border,” Mr. alJubeir said, in­sist­ing that his gov­ern­ment is as con­cerned as is that of Iraq. “We are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to find the re­cruiters and ap­pre­hend them.”

He said young men have been tricked into go­ing to Iraq, where they have been traf­ficked by in­sur­gents or crim­i­nal gangs.

“This is not good for us or any other coun­try in the re­gion,” he said. “It is the train­ing they re­ceive [in Iraq] that we are wor­ried about.”

Am­bas­sador Hamid al-Bay­ati

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