Arab Diplomat Resigns After Iraq Mission

The Associated Press
Sunday, February 4, 2007; 2:06 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- The Arab League sent Mokhtar Lamani to Iraq to persuade its bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to make peace. He failed, and has now resigned, disillusioned and nearly drained of hope.

He says his mission was doomed by feeble support from the Arab governments that hired him, U.S. policies and the refusal of Iraq's leaders to work together.

"I am no longer going to stand and watch Iraqis' bodies being taken to the cemetery," he told The Associated Press in Cairo, where he returned from Baghdad last week to deliver his resignation to the Arab League.

His mission was the Arab world's belated effort to help solve the turmoil _ a response to criticism from Iraq and the United States that Arabs were not doing enough. For much of the time since Saddam Hussein's fall nearly four years ago, Arab governments had shunned involvement, not wanting to imply approval of the U.S.-led invasion.

But the 54-year-old Moroccan diplomat left in failure.

"The help that (Iraq) should get was out of my hands," he said. "I have no desire to lie to myself or to Iraqis" _ adding that he had "nothing to give."

From the start of his eight months in Baghdad, Lamani struck a different approach. He chose not to live in the city's heavily guarded Green Zone, where the U.S. and British embassies are and where many diplomats stay. He said he wanted to have "contact with all levels of Iraqis."

Distancing himself from the Green Zone also would boost his credibility with Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, which views the district as a symbol of American domination of Iraq.

The choice meant he was in constant danger, though. With no security team for the villa where he lived and worked, Lamani depended on Kurdish guards assigned to protect the Foreign Ministry next door. He traveled in an unarmored car _ "many were calling me suicidal for that," he said _ until the Arab League provided an armored one seven months into his mission.

He would hear mortar shells exploding at the nearby Alawi bus station _ a frequent target of militants _ and, when Haifa Street became a battlefield last month, he went up to his roof to watch U.S. and Iraqi troops fighting insurgents.

Throughout, Lamani was working on the main goal of his mission, which was little noticed in the West: to convene a national reconciliation conference between Iraq's fractious parties and sectarian groups, a favored project of the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa.

The conference was first scheduled for last June, the month Lamani arrived in Baghdad. Then it was reset for August. Finally, it was postponed indefinitely because Iraqi factions could not agree on who should be invited, with Shiite Muslims opposing any Sunni groups with links to the insurgency.

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