CAIRO: Arab foreign ministers began meeting Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo to discuss Iraq, without the presence of their Iraqi counterpart, an AFP photographer reported. Earlier, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said Iraq would be present at the meeting even though Baghdad announced a boycott in response to President Hosni Mubarak s criticism of its Shiite-led government that angered Iraq, Iran and many regional neighbors.. The aim of the meeting is to aid Iraq and, if Iraq is absent, it will not serve the interests of the Iraqi people, Faisal told reporters after a meeting with Mubarak. Mubarak sparked Shiite fury last week after telling Al-Arabiya television that all Shiites were loyal to Iran. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari reacted Tuesday by saying his country would boycott the meeting. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit downplayed Iraq s decision to boycott the meeting of 10 Arab foreign ministers, saying it would go ahead with or without Iraqi participation. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurdish politician, had been due to brief the Cairo talks about the protracted efforts to form a national unity government nearly four months after parliamentary elections.
Egypt has been one of the main driving forces behind an attempt at uniting Iraqi ranks by sponsoring a national reconciliation conference, still due to take place in the near future, and the comments made earlier this week by Mubarak ignited a flurry of angry rebuttals. We are very surprised and annoyed by such comments, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had told Iraqi television. Reality and historical facts show that the Shiites always have been patriotic and genuine Iraqis. This unfair accusation against Shiites is baseless.
Iran, with its 90 percent Shiite Muslim population, many of whom make frequent pilgrimages to the shrines of revered Shiite imams in Iraq, also did not take kindly to Mubarak s comments.
It is evident that the Islamic Republic of Iran is only interested in seeking security and stability in Iraq, and the region, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi had told reporters. We have a lot of influence in Iraq, and in no way we have used it to interfere in Iraq s affaires, our influence is a spiritual one, he added.
Tehran cut diplomatic ties with Cairo after then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979. In a sign of antipathy, the Islamic republic named a street in Tehran after Sadat s assassin.
Analysts voiced their surprise at Mubarak s comments, which they considered to be a diplomatic blunder. Shiites may be loyal to Iran emotionally but not politically. Comments that Shiites are manipulated by Iran are a huge exaggeration, said Bahgat Korany, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. It was completely uncalled for, said Mohammed Sayed Said, political analyst with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He is giving an impression that there is a Sunni-Shiite divide in the Arab world. This way he is condemning half the population. Agencies