First Published: 2007-03-10

Iraq urges neighbours to halt terror as bombs kill dozens

US envoy warns Iraq's neighbours at Baghdad conference as Iran blames US for Iraq violence.


Middle East Online

By Bryan Pearson – BAGHDAD

Will there be a breakthrough?

Iraq urged its neighbours, including Iran and Syria, to halt their alleged support for violent extremists Saturday, as insurgent attacks slaughtered dozens more Iraqis.

The urgency of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's appeal was underlined when, in a suspected insurgent attack, three mortar rounds detonated next to the foreign ministry while peace talks took place inside.

Meanwhile, three kilometres (two miles) away in Shiite east Baghdad, a bomber slammed a truck laden with explosives into an army checkpoint at the entrance to Sadr City, killing 26 people, officials said.

A short distance away a second suicide attacker killed another soldier at a checkpoint, and further south, one civilian was killed in a third blast.

Insurgent bomb and gun attacks around the country accounted for at least eight more lives.

Sadr City is an almost exclusively Shiite area of east Baghdad which is at the centre of a large-scale US and Iraqi security operation.

As the explosions and gunfire echoed around Baghdad, Maliki launched a day of talks with delegates from Middle Eastern states and from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

He demanded that Iraq not become a battlefield for a proxy war between regional powers -- an implicit reference to the rivalry between Shiite Iran and Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbours.

"We wish to have our neighbours' support for confronting terrorism," said Maliki in his opening address, warning that the violence gripping Iraq could destablise other countries.

"The terrorism that today is trying to kill Iraqis in Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul and Anbar is the same as the terror that intimidated the population of Saudi Arabia, targeted the people of Egypt, attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and hit underground trains in Madrid and London.

"This is an international epidemic, the price of which is being paid by the people of Iraq, and our country is on the front line of confrontation.

"Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and media or religious incitement, as well as logistical support and the provision of arms and men that will become explosive tools killing our children, women and elders, and bombing our mosques and churches," Maliki said.

The Iraqi leader demanded "that regional and international states refrain from interfering or influencing the Iraqi situation by supporting certain sects, nationalities or parties."

After the opening address, envoys repaired for closed-door talks at which they were to discuss the drafting of a common statement and a date and a location for a follow-up meeting of higher-level ministers.

The Baghdad meeting was expected to last one day, with the possible next conference to be held some time next month, perhaps outside Iraq.

Journalists relaxing outside the venue during the closed-door session were hustled inside as three mortar rounds slammed into a neighbouring building, barely 50 metres (yards) away.

"It is just one of the threats that we are facing. There was no disruption," said Maliki spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

The latest US intelligence studies of the Iraqi crisis warn that the violence between Sunni and Shiite factions is "self-sustaining" and that "the term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict."

Nevertheless, both Washington and Baghdad also accuse neighbouring states of exacerbating the conflict by actively or tacitly supporting factions engaged in sectarian violence and insurgent attacks on security forces.

US commanders accuse Iranian agents of smuggling weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, including components for lethal roadside bombs that have been blamed for the deaths of at least 170 US soldiers since May 2004.

They also accuse Syria of allowing Sunni Arab extremists to cross its borders to join Al-Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Iraq.

Officials of Baghdad's Shiite-led government in turn accuse figures from the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia of funding Sunni insurgent groups.

Maliki's government is also wary of Washington's disputes with Tehran. It wants to maintain good relations with both its powerful Shiite neighbour and its superpower ally, which has 140,000 troops in Iraq.

All five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- took part on Saturday, along with the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

From the region, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey all sent representatives.

US envoy warns Iraq's neighbours

The US ambassador to Iraq warned the strife-torn country's neighbours o give support or weapons to the violent factions fighting in its sectarian war.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told delegates: "No country represented at the table would benefit from a disintegrated Iraq; indeed, all would suffer badly."

"I urge all neighbors to categorically reject the principle that selective violence against certain categories of Iraqis or against coalition and Iraqi security forces is acceptable," Khalilzad said, according to the US embassy.

He said Iraq's neighbours should "halt the flow of fighters, weapons, and other lethal support to militias and other illegal armed groups, and cease sectarian rhetoric and other propaganda that could incite violence."

The envoy said the 140,000-strong US force in Iraq would take "appropriate steps" to protect its government and people, and warned: "No one should doubt our resolve in this regard."

Khalilzad also expressed hope that a higher-level follow-up conference of ministers from the countries involved will be held next month, with the additional involvement of the G8 group of industrialised powers.

Iran blames US for Iraq violence

Iran's envoy to regional peace talks in Baghdad rebuffed allegations that his country was fomenting violence in Iraq and instead blamed the fighting on the presence of US forces.

Iran's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, Abbas Araghchi, accused the international forces in Iraq of playing a double game and called on them to set a date for their withdrawal.

"It will help resolve the problem of violence if they set a timetable for withdrawal of their troops from Iraq," he told reporters after a meeting with Iraq, its neighbours and the permament members of the UN Security Council.

He also condemned attacks on religious places and gatherings, five days after a double suicide attack on a crowds of Shiite pilgrims killed at least 117 Iraqis in the central city of Hilla.

"Tehran stands ready to help bring peace and stability to Iraq," he added.


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