Arab Support Vague for U.S. Iraq Plan

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; 5:51 PM

KUWAIT CITY -- The carefully worded encouragement that Arab allies are offering for President Bush's new Iraq strategy belies deep suspicion among the United States' few real friends in the region that Iraq may already be a lost cause.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made sales calls the past several days in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, presenting the U.S. plan and prospecting for tangible help from Iraq's neighbors. What she collected instead were polite versions of a blunt message: Good luck with that.

Eight Arab foreign ministers joined Rice in a vague statement Tuesday that welcomed a U.S. commitment to defend "the territorial 110 and guarantees the stability of the country."

The host, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah, was plain about the stakes. Asked if it was already too late to stop the rising cycle of Sunni-Shiite killings in Iraq, he had a succinct reply.

"Nine foreign ministers are meeting in Kuwait today to try to prevent Iraq from sliding into a civil war," al-Sabah said. "I think that speaks volumes."

The group met on the same day that the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died last year in sectarian violence. An explosion outside a Baghdad university as students were heading home for the day killed at least 65 people in the deadliest of several attacks on predominantly Shiite areas.

At Rice's earlier stops, key Sunni Arab allies endorsed the goals of Bush's plan, and expressed hopes that it will work. Almost in the same breath, however, many suggested that the Shiite-led government in Baghdad cannot or will not follow through.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was perhaps the most upbeat, but his doubts were obvious.

"We agree with the full objectives set by the new plan, the strategy," Saud said earlier Tuesday, following a briefing session with Rice. "This has objectives that ... if it were applied, it will solve the problems facing Iraq."

So far so good for Rice, but Saud wasn't finished. He went on to pin success squarely on the Iraq government, saying there is only so much that any outsider can do. He implied that others cannot help the Iraqis if they will not help themselves.

"We cannot be Iraqis more than Iraqis," Saud said. "Other countries can help, but the burden, the whole burden and taking a decision will be the Iraqis'."

Many in the Sunni Arab world profoundly distrust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, believing it is serving the interests of Shiite Iran and has no intention of giving Iraq's minority Sunnis much stake in the oil-rich nation's future.

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