Friday, September 23, 2005

Iraq coming apart, Saudi official warns


Iraq coming apart, Saudi official warns
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Iraq is moving toward disintegration, and war there could spread to its neighbors, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Thursday.

In part because of a new constitution that would give more power to various regions in Iraq, "there seems to be no dynamic that is pulling the country together," Saud said. Iraqis are to vote on the constitution next month. Sunni Arab leaders are urging a "no" vote, while majority Shiites urge approval.

"All the dynamics there are pushing people away from each other," said Saud, whose nation is predominantly Sunni.

The main problem, Saud told a small group of reporters here, is the split between Sunnis and Shiites in central and southern Iraq. Continued autonomy for non-Arab Kurds in northern Iraq is less of a concern, he said.

"If things go the way they are ... there will be a struggle among the three for natural resources," Saud said, and Iraq's neighbors will be drawn into a wider war.

He said Iran, a predominantly Shiite but non-Arab nation, would intervene on the side of Iraqi Shiites. Turkey, which has a big Kurdish minority, has repeatedly threatened to enter northern Iraq if Kurds there declare independence. If Iraq's Sunni Arab minority appears to lose out, "I don't see how the Arab countries will be left out of the conflict in one way or another."

The State Department had no comment on Saud's remarks.

Saud, who met later with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, faulted the Bush administration for adding to sectarian tensions by treating all members of Saddam Hussein's mainly Sunni Baath Party as "criminals" after ousting Saddam. He urged the United States to work harder to persuade Shiites to reach out to Sunni Arabs to assure them of their safety and equality and of Iraq's territorial integrity.

Although Saudi Arabia provided limited help to the United States in the initial phases of the war, Saud had recommended a coup to oust Saddam — not the dismantling of the Iraqi government. "It's no secret that Saudi Arabia does not believe military action in Iraq will achieve the objective it is aimed at," he said in a March 2002 interview with USA TODAY.

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