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Iraq's Neighbors Praise Maliki Government, Maliki Asks Them to Do More


Iraq's neighbors, meeting in Kuwait, have praised the Iraqi government's efforts to curtail violence and broaden the political process. But the Iraqi prime minister appealed to his neighbors to do more to help stabilize Iraq. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Iraq's neighbors and and leading Western nations meeting in Kuwait have issued a communiqué praising Iraq's efforts to broaden participation in the political process and build dialogue across the country's political and sectarian divides.

Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors have in the past criticized Iraq's Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government for not doing enough to bring Sunnis into the political process, and have accused it of failing to crack down on Shi'ite armed groups as strictly as does on Sunni ones. But the conference communiqué praised Iraq's commitment to disarm all militias.

The meeting in Kuwait came as Iraqi security forces have been battling Shi'ite militias in Basra and the Baghdad district of Sadr City, both strongholds of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. On Sunday, Sadr threatened to declare "open war" if the crackdown continues.

As the conference opened, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a strongly worded appeal to Iraq's neighbors to do more. He asked them to help control militant groups using their territory to launch attacks on Iraq. He also urged them to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Baghdad.

He said it is difficult for Iraq's government to explain why Iraq's neighbors have not revived ties with Baghdad. He said many other countries have kept diplomatic missions in Baghdad regardless of security considerations.

No Sunni Arab state has a full-time ambassador in Iraq. By contrast, Iran, a non-Arab, mostly Shi'ite country that fought a long war with Iraq in the 1980s - has resumed full diplomatic ties.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have pressured Arab states to establish diplomatic relations, saying this will bolster Iraq's stability and integration in the region.

Many Arab states say they remain concerned about the lack of security in Iraq. Jordan's embassy in Baghdad was bombed in 2003. Egypt's ambassador to Iraq was kidnapped and killed in 2005 and has not been replaced.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said European countries also need to normalize relations with Baghdad.

"We must be all of us, all the European Union present, opening or reopening embassies and helping the people. One of these days the Americans will leave, they would leave, so we have to prepare to be close to our friends, the Iraqis," said Kouchner.

Mr. Maliki also called on Iraq's neighbors to forgive the country's debt which he said is hurting Iraq's economy.

He said canceling the debt would send the Iraqi people a positive sign that the country's neighbors intend to help Iraqis overcome the crisis they are facing.

The State Department says about $66.5 billion of Iraq's foreign debt has already been canceled, but another $65 billion to $80 billion is owed, mostly to countries.

Iraqi and U.S. officials asked for debt relief at another regional meeting in Bahrain on Monday, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated afterward that no commitments have been made.

Iraqi officials said they have also asked Kuwait to waive or reduce tens of billions of dollars in compensation Iraq is to pay for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. An Iraqi spokesman said the two countries have formed a committee to consider the idea.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Rice told reporters that the Bush administration had explicitly discouraged former President Jimmy Carter from meeting with officials of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. Mr. Carter met with senior Hamas officials on his recent Middle East trip, including exiled leader Khaled Meshaal.

In Jerusalem on Tuesday, Mr. Carter said that Hamas officials told him they are prepared to accept an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement if it is put to a Palestinian referendum, but they apparently attached conditions.

Rice said she wanted to make sure there is "no confusion" that the group is not party to the Middle East peace process.

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