BAGHDAD – Iraqi officials are hoping for a new era in the country’s relations with Arab neighbors following the United Arab Emirates’ pledge Thursday to send the first Arab ambassador to Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, said here that he hoped to establish a full embassy “in the next few days.”
“I hope this will be a start for all Arab (states) in Iraq,” said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Arab nations have shied away from full relations with the new Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shiite Muslims and Kurds – two groups that were oppressed under the largely Sunni Muslim government of deposed President Saddam Hussein.
The mostly Sunni Persian Gulf nations in particular have kept their distance, wary of Iran’s regional ambitions and extensive ties with the new Iraqi government. Iran is dominated by Shiites.
In addition to smoothing Iraq’s reintegration into the Arab political scene, the United Arab Emirates’ move could aid Iraq’s campaign to persuade some of its gulf state creditors to forgive part of its massive debts.
Crocker: No permanent base
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is not trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq, even surreptitiously, the diplomat leading tense talks with Iraq said Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker rejected the notion that the legal and military agreements he wants this year are blueprints for an everlasting American military presence inside Iraq.
“It is not going to be forever,” he told reporters at the State Department.
Crocker addressed suspicions, including among many Iraqis, that the Bush administration is trying to wrap up deals for an indefinite military presence in Iraq that the next U.S. president could not undo.