By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 29, 2007
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 28 -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah told Arab leaders gathered here Wednesday that they were to blame for the civil strife and divisions plaguing the Arab world.
Speaking at the opening of the Arab summit, Abdullah said that Arabs were less united today than they were just over 60 years ago when the Arab League was formed, and that backwardness and disunity need not be their destiny.
Abdullah outlined the turbulence in the region, including U.S. involvement in Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, foreign involvement in Sudan, a cycle of civil wars in Somalia and the political crisis in Lebanon.
"In wounded Palestine, the population is still suffering under occupation, deprived of its right to independence and nationhood," he said. "And in beloved Iraq, there is bloodshed between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatening a civil war."
Abdullah's description of the U.S. presence in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation" was a statement of fact and not a change in Saudi policy, said a source close to the government who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue. Saudi Arabia often has said that it wants a united Iraq free from foreign occupation, the source said.
The kingdom was against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but more recently has lobbied for American forces to remain there until order has been restored.
In his rare call for introspection in the Arab world, where conspiracy theories are common and many problems are blamed on Israel, Abdullah said, "The real blame falls on us, leaders of the Arab nation, for our constant disputes, and our refusal to get united. All this made the Arab nation lose confidence in our credibility and lose hope."
Lebanon sent two delegations to the summit, one headed by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and the other led by President Emile Lahoud, a member of the main opposition coalition that includes the Iranian-backed radical group Hezbollah.