Iraqi talks complicated by Saudi initiative, says official


AN OFFICIAL representing Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc said yesterday the Saudi offer to host talks on the formation of a new government has complicated the process.

Hassan al-Suneid argued that the deadlock over the establishment of a government should be resolved in Iraq rather than abroad.

Sami al-Askari, a lawmaker in Mr Maliki’s bloc, criticised the offer. “This Saudi initiative is not positive. That country does not have a role to play because it has not been neutral . . . It has always had a negative attitude toward [Mr Maliki] and his State of Law coalition.

“Had this invitation come from . . . Jordan, Syria or even Turkey, it would have had a better chance of being well received,” said Mr al-Askari

Alia Nusseyef, from the rival Iraqiya bloc, stated: “The initiative comes too late.” She observed that Riyadh, a key regional power, “should have played a role to support Iraq a long time ago”.

In spite of Baghdad’s negative reaction, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri advised Iraqis, “not to miss this golden opportunity”.

On Saturday, Saudi King Abdullah called on Iraq’s rival camps to unite and invite them to Riyadh at the end of November with the aim of reaching an accord between competing camps.

The secular Iraqiya bloc, headed by Ayad Allawi, secured 91 seats in Iraq’s 325-member parliament in the March 7th poll while Mr Maliki’s Shia sectarian bloc won 89. Neither has been able to put together a majority coalition, leaving Iraq without a functioning government for eight months.

Last week a court ordered the national assembly, which has met only once, to convene.

Both Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi have sought backing from the entire range of regional leaders, including Syria’s secular president, the Sunni Saudi monarch and Shia Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But Mr Maliki would be reluctant to accept mediation from King Abdullah. Mr Maliki would not like the Saudis to best his Iranian allies who have tried and failed to end the impasse.

If, however, Mr Maliki snubs the Saudis, Riyadh could retaliate by stepping up support for Mr Allawi or providing aid to Sunni insurgents dedicated to the overthrow of Shia religious parties tied to Iran.