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Iraqi PM urges neighbours to cancel debts

Latest update : 2008-04-22

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki criticized oil-rich Gulf states for not doing more to stabilise the country. In addition to debt cancellation, he asked that they re-open their embassies in Baghdad.

KUWAIT, April 22 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki rebuked neighbouring states on Tuesday for not doing
enough to strengthen ties with Baghdad, write off Iraq's debts
or stop militants entering the war-torn country.

Maliki, speaking at a meeting in Kuwait of foreign ministers
from the region and Western powers, did not name any countries
but his remarks appeared aimed at Sunni Arab states that have
only low-level ties with his Shi'ite-led government.

He said Iraq was now a vastly different country from that
under former leader Saddam Hussein, who ruled with an iron fist
for decades until his ouster in 2003 by U.S.-led forces.

"Iraq today is different from the previous Iraq which
assaulted its neighbours. Iraq ... is ready to play a
constructive role in security and stability in the region,"
Maliki said at the start of the meeting.

He rattled off a list of grievances his government had with
neighbouring states.

"It's difficult for us to explain why diplomatic ties have
not been resumed with Iraq. Many other foreign countries have
kept diplomatic missions in Baghdad regardless of security
considerations," Maliki said.

No ambassador from a Sunni Arab nation has been stationed
permanently in Baghdad since Egypt's envoy was kidnapped and
killed shortly after arriving in 2005. Visits by top officials
from Arab states, which have been reluctant to extend full
legitimacy to Iraq's U.S.-backed government, are also rare.

By comparison, Iraq has growing ties with non-Arab Iran.

Promises have been made by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to open
up embassies in Baghdad and the U.S. hope is that if Riyadh
announces firm plans and dates then others will follow.

The Kuwait meeting is a follow-on from gatherings of Iraq's
neighbours as well as permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council that were held in Turkey and Egypt last year.

Maliki said Iraq had made great strides since then.



U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is at the
meeting, has said she would push hard for Arab neighbours to
"meet their obligations" and step up financial and diplomatic
support that has not been forthcoming since the 2003 invasion.

About $66.5 billion of Iraq's foreign debt has been
forgiven, according to State Department estimates. Of the
estimated $56 billion to $80 billion debt that remains, more
than half is owed to Gulf countries, the department said.

Maliki said Iraq was still waiting for relief of the
remaining debts as well as a reduction in compensation it owes
because of Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"The cancelling of debts and the suspension of compensation
that Iraq pays would present a positive message to Iraq's people
that there is a real wish to help them overcome crises and speed
up reconstruction," Maliki said.

Maliki also urged neighbouring countries to make more effort
to prevent militants crossing into Iraq.

Iraq's recent attempts to crush Shi'ite militias will also
be a central topic at the meeting and Maliki is expected to urge
Arab countries to back those efforts.

A draft of a statement to be issued on Tuesday at the
meeting said participants "welcome the Iraqi government's
commitment to disarm and dismantle all militias and illegally
armed groups, enforcing the rule of law, and ensuring the
state's monopoly on armed forces."

The statement, obtained by Reuters, also urged the
"maintaining or opening of diplomatic missions in Iraq".

After several hours of talks with Arab ministers in Bahrain
on Monday, Rice got a lukewarm response to her appeal for
embassies to open but she told reporters the process was moving
forward and Iraq was gaining acceptance in the region.

The two previous meetings of Iraq's neighbours in Egypt and
Turkey last year were dominated by tensions between the United
States and Iran, which Washington accuses of stirring up
violence in Iraq. Tehran denies the charges.

At a group photo at the meeting's start, Rice was in the
front row, four places away from Iran's Foreign Minister
Manouchehr Mottaki. U.S. officials said they did not interact.

Date created : 2008-04-22