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Iraq's Neighbors Willing to Help Baghdad Achieve Full Independence - 2003-11-18


Officials in three of Iraq's neighboring countries are showing a willingness to help Iraq achieve full independence, following Washington's announcement that a provisional government would be in place in Iraq by June 2004.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi was quoted by the state-run news agency, IRNA, as saying that, while Tehran was prepared to help bring stability to Iraq, it would not interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

Monday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, for the first time, officially recognized the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council after meeting with its chairman, Jalal Talabani, in Tehran. Mr. Khatami said the Governing Council is capable of leading Iraq towards independence.

Previously, Tehran had said the Governing Council was only a step toward Iraqi independence and had refused to officially recognize it as a legitimate authority.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's official SPA news agency reported that the Saudi cabinet welcomed Washington's announced plan to speed up the transfer of power from Iraq's current Governing Council.

And in Damascus, Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam was quoted Tuesday as saying Syria would not aid or support militants intent on fighting coalition troops in Iraq.

According to political science professor Mona Makrahm Ebeid at American University in Cairo, the latest comments from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria indicate movement in the right direction. "All these moves are trying to show goodwill towards the United States. Both Iran and Damascus are threatened, and [so is] Saudi Arabia," she said. "So the three of them are under U.S. pressure. These are the neighboring countries of course, so they are very important for Iraq. It is very important that they have good relations with [Iraq] and they do not interfere in their steps toward deciding on the election time, deciding on the constitution that they are going to submit. I think things are moving."

Egyptian academic Abdullah al-Ashaal says Saudi Arabia links the rising tide of terrorism in the kingdom to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. Consequently, he says, Riyadh wants to see independence in Iraq as soon as possible.

The head of the political science department at Cairo University, Hassan Nafae, says Iran does not support acts of resistance in Iraq because Tehran believes that many of those acts are being carried out by loyalists to Saddam Hussein, a man who waged an eight-year war against Iran.

And, with the United States considering sanctions against Syria for allegedly aiding terrorist groups, political analysts say Damascus is under pressure to renounce terrorism in Iraq.

The spokesman for the 22-member Arab League, Hisham Yousef, said the Arab world is welcoming the speeding up of the process of handing power over to an Iraqi provisional government, but is cautiously awaiting the results. "There has been a shift in the American policy and that shift is welcome. But we do not know, as of yet, what is the extent of the shift and what is the speed at which this policy would be implemented and how significant will be the transfer of power," he said.

Mr. Yousef said there will be shift in Arab attitudes toward the United States if Washington can deliver on its promises to give full independence to the Iraqi people within a reasonable period of time.

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