Rice: Arabs fear Iraq sectarian violence spillover
Updated: 2006-02-25 09:33
Arab states fear sectarian violence in Iraq could spill over to their
countries, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday while flying home
from a tour of the Middle East.
Rice blamed al Qaeda for the
bombing which ignited Iraqi sectarian violence that has left 200 people dead in
Baghdad alone over the past three days. She acknowledged the violence posed a
threat to Iraq's political process and took small comfort from the limited
achievements of her latest trip.
Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice smiles during her meeting with United Arab Emirates
Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, February 23,
She suggested that al Qaeda planted the explosives, which on Wednesday blew
up an important Shi'ite mosque in the Iraqi town of Samarra and sparked a spate
of vicious attacks against clerics, mosques and ordinary people.
"There is a concern that the sectarian tensions that outsiders are stoking in
Iraq -- that those same outsiders might try and stoke sectarian tensions in
other parts of the region," she said before a refueling stop in Ireland.
The dozens of reprisal attacks on minority Sunni mosques have stalled talks
on a national unity government that U.S. President George W. Bush says is the
key to the stability that would let him bring home 130,000 American troops.
"This is an extremely hard and extremely delicate moment obviously for the
Iraqis, there has been a strike against Iraqi unity," Rice said.
"This makes it harder today and perhaps tomorrow, but I am confident the
Iraqis are committed to, dedicated to the formation of a national unity
A daytime curfew in Baghdad and calls for Muslim unity from mosques across
the country on Friday eventually damped down sectarian violence on the Muslim
day of prayer.
Three years ago, Rice was a leading advocate for the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
alongside other Bush administration officials who dismissed critics that said
toppling then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would eventually invite a civil
On Friday, her plane flew over a country whose infrastructure remains in
tatters, whose people live in fear of the bullets and bombs which regularly kill
at random and where a Sunni-led insurgency makes governance next to impossible.
U.S. troops in Iraq have no date to return home. Casualties and domestic
pressure for them to come home are both rising.
Rice's trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates also
underscored the flagging influence of a Bush administration that is unpopular in
the Arab world.
On a tour whose goal was to persuade Arab governments to isolate Hamas and
Iran, the United States appeared nearly alone in its hard line against both
Arab powerbrokers, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, rejected Rice's appeal for them to
deny aid to Hamas, the militant group which swept Palestinian elections in
January and has been asked to form the next Palestinian government.
Hamas -- whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel -- is expected to
take power in a few weeks and has treated threats to pull U.S. aid to the
Palestinian government with diffidence. The group has been labeled a terrorist
organization by the United States and the European Union
No country has
pledged it will follow the U.S. policy to withhold aid as soon as Hamas forms a
government, according to U.S. officials lobbying for such action.
Rice had to settle for Arab countries agreeing to press Hamas to seek peace
with Israel, even though they avoided warning of any consequences should the
group remain unmoved.
And while they expressed some concern over the potential for a nuclear-armed
Iran, the countries shunned Rice's call to threaten the Islamic republic with
isolation if it fails to dispel Western suspicions it is building an atomic
With Russia, China and many developing countries also resisting the U.S.
drive for international sanctions against Iran, only the European Union has
moved close to Washington.
While few countries are threatening to isolate Iran, Rice said the world
agreed the country should curb its nuclear programs.
"That international consensus is sincere," she said.