Iraq: Official Says Neighbors 'Must Do More'
March 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) --
On March 10, Baghdad will host a meeting of representatives from neighboring
countries, as well as regional powers and permanent members of the UN Security
Council, to discuss cooperation to improve security in Iraq. Deputy Foreign
Minister Labid Abawi discussed the government's expectations for the meeting
with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo.
RFE/RL: What does the Iraqi Foreign Ministry expect to come out of
the neighbors meeting?
Labid Abawi: Well, first of all, you know,
this is the meeting in a series of neighboring countries -- this is supposed to
be the background of this meeting. This one we look forward to because, first of
all, it's going to be held in Baghdad and secondly, that we have managed to
expand the participation to include the permanent members of the [UN] Security
Council and their ambassadors in Baghdad to participate in this meeting.
Thirdly, we think this is the time after the Iraqi political process has
taken very big steps forward, and now we are in the position to ask our
neighboring countries to do more to help the Iraqis and support Iraqis rather
than just to issue political statements.... We think it is time now that all
neighboring countries take a serious decision to implement all what they have
promised to do before, and we look forward to participating.
discuss measures and call on them to follow up commitments towards Iraq from all
neighboring countries. So we really look forward to this meeting and we look to
the positive contribution of every country that will be present.
RFE/RL: Do you think that there will be a different outcome this
time, because as you said, Iraq has been asking its neighbors to do something
about the situation in Iraq and we've seen very little movement from some
neighbors. What makes this meeting different?
Abawi: First of all,
this is the first time this meeting is going to take place after the general
election in Iraq and after a government of national unity. Also, we have during
the past months...embarked on several initiatives in order to alleviate all of
the political problems we faced.
For instance, reconciliation and
national dialogue, the Baghdad security plan, the reappraisal of the law of
de-Ba'athification. As an example, yesterday we had a conference of all the
ex-army officers. Now we have about 85,000 [members of the] ex-army that have
been recruited back to the new army. So we have [taken] very important steps
towards the political solution of Iraq, as well as [with] security matters.
So we think now that it is needed, after we have made such steps
forward, that tangible measures of support are needed.... Now, everybody --
these neighboring countries -- see that we are moving forward, they know that we
have scored some successes, marginal as they are, but still they are positive.
Second, I think in the last months or so the Iraqi diplomacy has also
scored some marginal success in trying to redevelop its relationship with some
of our neighboring countries which we had very negative stances before -- like
with Syria -- as you know, the [restart] of diplomatic relations, the visit of
the President [Jalal Talabani] to Syria, the signing of some agreements between
the Iraqi security apparatus and their Syrian counterparts.
was a very important [progress] with Iran, to get the Iranians to cooperate more
with stability in Iraq. I think also that...the Iranian visit to Saudi Arabia,
they agreed that they should work together to diffuse any sectarian violence in
Iraq. So there is a lot of movement on the regional and political scene in the
region which necessitates that the neighboring countries do take some tangible
I think now everybody realizes that terrorism, which has been
spreading in Iraq, is not just an Iraqi issue -- it's a regional and
international issue. If we cannot cooperate in combating terrorism, it will
spread and engulf neighboring countries. I think now it is needed more than ever
a sort of coordination and cooperation to combat terrorism. So, all this makes
us feel that maybe the neighboring countries would be able to or can do more
than they did before.
RFE/RL: Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had
initially expected senior officials to attend the meeting, but now we hear that
the meeting will take place on the ambassadorial level. Was there some
disappointment on the part of the Foreign Ministry that more senior officials
wouldn't be attending this meeting?
Abawi: No, I wouldn't say
disappointment. It is true that we had hoped this meeting would take place on
the Foreign Ministry level, but in our consultations with all the countries
concerned, we heard a lot of argument about the timing of the meeting, which is
near the Arab summit which is going to take place in Saudi Arabia at the end of
Secondly, there are still some [concerns]...that because of
the security situation, Iraq wouldn't be able to organize such a big event. Also
on the political scene, they knew that the government would show more
credibility on the political scene especially after the Baghdad security plan
has been initiated. [Neighbors] prefer to see some progress in
We accepted the idea that we, maybe we would have a meeting on
the experts and higher-official level to prepare for the forthcoming meeting of
the neighboring countries, to [assess] what the Iraqis need at this time, so
that...the foreign ministers will know what the Iraqis [expect] from this
gathering [in terms of need] so that when they come, they will have the
possibility of signing any declaration that might come out of this meeting.
So, I think that better preparation is needed and that's why we decided
to have this preparatory meeting on this level and also this is the first time
that the P5 [permanent members of the UN Security Council] are participating in
this meeting.... So I think it is part of a good preparation, so we are not
RFE/RL: Can you confirm that all of Iraq's
neighbors will attend this meeting?
Abawi: Up to this date, we
have not received any negative [response] from any country.... I think all we be
participating...I think we will have a full house.
about the follow-up meeting. We've heard that it may be held in Istanbul or in
Abawi: This is going to be discussed in the Baghdad meeting
itself because as you know, we still believe that a meeting on the foreign
ministers' level should take place in Baghdad also. So this is going to be our
position, but of course we will listen to other proposals.... As far as the
Iraqis [are concerned], we prefer to have it in
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