By Lydia GeorgiAgence France Presse
March 28, 2007
Saudi King Abdullah, whose country is a close US ally, on Wednesday slammed the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq in an opening speech to the annual Arab summit in Riyadh. "In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war," Abdullah said. He also said that Arab nations, which are planning to revive a five-year-old Middle East peace plan at the summit, would not allow any foreign force to decide the future of the region.
In the past, Saudi leaders including Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal have often criticized US policy in Iraq but have never described its presence there as "illegitimate." If Arab leaders recover trust in each other and regain their credibility, "the winds of hope will blow on the nation, and then, we will not allow forces from outside the region to determine the future of the region, and only the flag of Arabism will be raised on Arab soil," Abdullah said.
Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit agreed on Monday to call for an amendment of Iraq's 2005 constitution to give Sunni Arabs a greater share of power in the war-ravaged country and prevent its breakup. But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari responded by saying the government did not need a "diktat" from the Arabs on how to amend its constitution and boost national reconciliation.
The Iraqi government has initiated moves to review a de-Baathification law in a bid to woo former members of the regime of executed dictator Saddam Hussein back into politics and government jobs. Under a controversial de-Baathification law, tens of thousands of members of Iraq's former ruling Baath party were stripped of their posts in government, at universities and in business after the 2003 US-led invasion.
The law has been a major source of grievance for the minority Sunnis, who have waged a deadly insurgency against US troops and the Shiite-led American-backed government in Baghdad. Iraq's once-ruling Sunnis also want an amendment of the constitution, which they fear leaves their central regions without natural resources and Iraq's oil wealth in the hands of the governing Shiites and the autonomous Kurds.
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