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Iraq: Deputy Foreign Minister Says Baghdad Seeks New Links With International Community

A week after the handover of sovereignty to Iraq's new interim government on 28 June, diplomats there say they are working to restore the country's international ties. But it is a delicate process. Baghdad has already rejected offers from several neighbors to send peacekeepers to Iraq, saying such a move could add to the country's unrest. RFE/RL spoke with Iraq's deputy foreign affairs minister about the issue.

Baghdad, 5 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's newly sovereign government is eager to reestablish ties with the Arab world and beyond. But progress will be slow. Baghdad has already refused offers by Turkey and Jordan to send stabilization troops to the country.

In an interview aired today on Al-Arabiya television, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Iraq's ethnic and religious "sensitivities" had prompted a decision to bar peacekeepers from neighboring countries.

Allawi added Iraq's neighbors can help by "protecting their borders and curbing infiltrations."

Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati spoke to RFE/RL about the issue of Arab troops. He said while Iraq is eager for help from its neighbors, it does not want their troops deployed on its territory.

"Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, and Morocco [are offering help]," al-Bayati said. "However, as regards sending troops, we have our reservations about neighboring countries sending troops. But I think we [would welcome] any kind of assistance, such as training and providing equipment and even exchanging information about terrorists and criminals."

Jordan is the only one of those countries, which directly borders Iraq. Al-Bayati said the deployment of Jordanian troops would make it difficult for Baghdad to refuse troops from other direct neighbors, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Iran.

The Foreign Ministry in Baghdad has accused outside countries of supporting Islamic extremists operating in Iraq. While it has not named specific countries, Baghdad is believed to suspect Tehran and Damascus of aiding the insurgency.

The interim government is currently holding talks with Iran, Jordan, and Syria on border issues.

Al-Bayati suggested that troops from other Arab countries are welcome in Iraq. But the details remain unclear. Yemen, for one, has agreed to send troops only if they are put under United Nations, rather than coalition, command.

Some countries, including Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, have also offered to help train Iraqi security forces.

Al-Bayati said the U.S. occupation of Iraq has left the whole region nervous.

"The Americans frightened the whole region when they were talking about rogue states, when they were talking about 'Iraq today, Syria tomorrow, Iran [the day] after tomorrow,'" al-Bayati said. "We told [the United States] a long time ago that they should state all the time that Saddam [Hussein] is a unique case, Saddam is a special case, and that a special case needs a special solution."

Al-Bayati said the U.S. occupation hurt many of Iraq's diplomatic ties in the region, and that the interim government is now working hard to repair those ties.

As a member of the Arab League, Iraq maintains diplomatic relations with many countries in the region. But al-Bayati said many of Iraq's diplomats are holdovers from the Hussein regime, and that change is urgently needed.

Al-Bayati said Iraq has no plans to follow Jordan's example and establish bilateral diplomatic ties with Israel.

"Israel is a different case. I think we will be part of the decision of the Arab League," Al-Bayati said. "We are a member of the Arab League and we will follow what the Arab League decides about a relationship with Israel. And right now there is no official position of having a diplomatic relationship with Israel."

Beyond the Mideast region, al-Bayati said Iraq is also resuming its role as a member of the international community.

Iraq is a full-fledged member of the United Nations but it still has no voting rights because the country is unable to pay its debts to the organization. Al-Bayati expressed a wish the UN would forgive or reduce Baghdad's debt.

NATO late-June summit in Turkey also focused largely on Iraq. The deputy foreign minister said the Atlantic alliance's offer of assistance in training Iraqi security forces is a sign that Iraq is no longer a divisive subject among NATO members.

At the same time, he said, Iraq's instability will not be helped by remaining disagreements between the United States on one hand, and Germany and France.

"We would like to see the whole international community supporting Iraq and the Iraqi people through this difficult time," Al-Bayati said. "We urge other countries, such as France and Germany, to help and assist the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. That will give us a balanced relationship with the world."

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