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At Kuwait meeting, U.S. hope for regional aid to Iraq

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The Bush administration recognizes that Iraq's political stability will require the cooperation of neighbors, perhaps even some kind of security entente, and in its waning months is more actively pushing regional diplomacy. But the neighbors may still be too busy fighting proxy wars in Iraq to think about cooperation, some analysts believe. Saudi Arabia, with one eye on Iran and suspicious of the Maliki government's pro-Tehran elements, continues to support Sunni parties and groups unhappy with the weak Shiite-dominated government.

For its part, Iran is juggling numerous objectives in Iraq, from seeing a stable but relatively weak Shiite government maintain power to taking whatever steps might help rid it of the sizable US military presence next door.

"The Arab regimes may have been relieved to see Mr. Maliki order an offensive against the Shiite militias, but they are still fearful," says Hazim al-Shameri, a professor of political science at Baghdad University. "The fact is the Sunni Arabs don't have good relations with Shiite Iran, and now they find themselves with an Iraq governed by Shiites and building close relations with Iran."

Secretary Rice has ruled out a formal meeting with her Iranian counterpart in the margins of the Kuwait summit – which will also include a sideline discussion of the political crisis in Lebanon where Iran-backed Hizbullah is pitted against US-supported forces. A similar gathering in Sharm el-Sheik a year ago included lower-level US-Iran contacts that led to meetings in Baghdad between the two countries' ambassadors.

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