Monday, May 22, 2006

Iraq’s Neighbours Hail New Government

Iraq’s neighbours hailed the formation of the new government in Baghdad after months of tortuous negotiations, with Iran saying it was determined to improve ties with Iraq. “Iran welcomes the formation of the new Iraqi government and we are determined to expand and solidify our brotherly relations with Iraq,” foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran. Jordan’s King Abdullah II telephoned Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to congratulate him, calling the new government “a significant step towards building a new Iraq that would be able to fulfil the aspirations of its people for a better life, democracy, pluralism and stronger national unity”. The king also told Talabani that Amman is keen on helping Iraq restore security in a country battling a Sunni-led insurgency. Jordanian Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit told new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Amman was determined to bolster ties with Baghdad on various fronts.
Jalal Talabani
In Damascus, Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri congratulated Maliki on forming his government and reaffirmed “Syrian support for Iraq and its wish to accord all possible help”. Otri, whose government has been accused by Washington of helping fuel the insurgency, also said he hoped the new government will bring stability and security to Iraq, according to the official SANA news agency. Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, called the new government “a step on the right path towards achieving security and stability”. Although the government was finally formed on Saturday, more than five months after the December 2005 election, the cabinet is still without either a defence or interior minister. Mussa added that he hoped the development would speed up preparations for an Arab League-sponsored Iraqi conference aimed at defusing sectarian tension. The pan-Arab body plans to hold the conference in Baghdad on June 20. It was meant to have taken place earlier this year, but was delayed as Iraqi politicians continued to bicker over the line-up of the new government and the choice of prime minister. In Tehran, Mr Asefi said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will visit Baghdad soon. His trip would be the first high-level visit to Iraq by an Iranian official since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election win in June last year. Former foreign minister Kamal Kharazi visited Iraq in May 2005. The new Iraqi administration is the first full-term government since the end of the Saddam regime, and is a broad coalition aimed at uniting a country torn by daily violence and facing a lack of basic necessities.