Friday, August 29, 2003

What seems lacking in the Arab controversy about Iraq, however, is a proper debate that takes into account the desires of Iraqis themselves and the overall Arab interests.

The editor-in-chief of Cairo's mass circulation weekly Al-Mussawar, Makram Mohamed Ahmed correctly noted in last week's issue that there are "negative implications" for the Arabs' refusal to recognise the Iraqi council. Ahmed described the Arab position as "paranoid" as well as "insulting" to the Iraqis, and labelled the policy of Egypt's Foreign Ministry as "unjustified".

The diplomatic tug of war over the (Iraqi Governing) council's legitimacy has proven to be irrelevant and in some cases self-defeating. One of the keys to understanding the current situation is that Saddam's fall has had a positive effect on the region and its stability. The new regime in Iraq will find it difficult to continue Saddam's regional ambitions and will certainly play a moderating role in the region's politics...

In his numerous statements in Cairo, Al- Jaafari tried to explain that it is not a perfect solution, yet it is the most representative governing body Iraqis could hope for. He repeatedly noted that the council was never meant to be the end point of the Iraqi political reconstruction but only its beginning. The clear message brought by the council's delegation to Cairo was that it is in the Arabs' own interests to extend a hand to the Iraqis to help them overcome current difficulties.

Indeed, the consequences of failure in Iraq would be serious for the region and for global stability as a whole. If reconstruction continues to falter, Iraqi public opinion will coagulate in opposition to the occupation and armed resistance will mount. On the other side of the world, the American public may increasingly resent sustaining an intervention costing American lives and around one billion dollars a week and the US may be tempted to abruptly withdraw its troops from the growing chaos.

This is a worst case scenario, possibly a recipe for civil war and the Balkanisation of the country into ethnic and sectarian entities. Iraqis and Arabs have a shared interest in preventing this scenario. As the delegation's tour has showed, the Arabs must make more of an effort and Iraqis should be given a far greater role in running their own country, particularly in creating a credible Iraqi authority.

The bombing of the United Nations building in Baghdad that left 23 dead, including UN special envoy to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, with increasing speculation that non-Iraqi terrorists might have been behind attack, is keeping the drama of Iraq on centre-stage. The cost of losing Iraq is too great to contemplate.

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