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Iraq's Neighbors Call on U.S. To Leave

At a summit in Riyadh, foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring countries call on the U.S. and Britain to turn responsibility for creating a new Iraqi government over to the United Nations.


Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal

At the opening of their summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, leaders of Iraq's neighboring Arab states said American and British "occupying forces" forces had no right to exploit Iraqi oil and should leave the country as quickly as possible. They are insisting the United Nations should be given the task of creating a new Iraqi government.

Saturday's summit was attended by the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. The countries also urgently called on the U.S.-led military coalition to fulfill its demands under international law to restore security and order and human rights and to protect Iraq's cultural heritage.

"Now Iraq is under an occupying power and any request for lifting sanctions must come when there is a legitimate government which represents the people," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said. "If what they (the occupying forces) intend is the exploitation of Iraqi oil, it will not have any legitimate basis."

Though Washington has been pushing for a quick lifting of 12-year-old United Nations sanctions against Iraq -- it needs Iraq's oil money in order to finance reconstruction -- Al-Faisal said no decision to remove sanctions should be made before an Iraqi government has been built.

"Occupying force"

In a statement issued by the countries on Saturday, the foreign ministers urged the United States and Britain to public define themselves as occupyers in order to fulfill their Geneva convention duties. "(The ministers) underlined the obligations of the occupying powers under the fourth Geneva convention to maintain security and stability... and underlined their obligation to withdraw from Iraq and allow Iraqis to exercise their right to self-determination," it said.

The foreign ministers also condemned U.S. threats against Syria and said any escalation of violence threatened to throw the region into a spiral of war and fuel Western hatred. Washington has accused Syria of harboring officials from Saddam Hussein's fallen government as well as producing weapons of mass destruction, and it is threatening Damascus with economic and diplomatic sanctions.

The eight foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh instead called on the U.S. to increase its diplomatic dialogue with Damascus. They also greeted a planned trip by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to Damascus and other Middle Eastern cities. The most important goal for postwar Iraq, they said, should be maintaining federal unity in the country as well as protecting the right of the Iraqi people to establish their own government with representation from all of the country's religious and ethnic groups.

They urged Powell to use his trip to ease tensions and to get the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians back on track. Iraq's neighboring countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, said they would reject any push for secession of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq. The countries, along with Egypt and Bahrain, also said they would be unwilling to accept an interim Iraqi government created by the United States alone.

Meanwhile, al-Faisal called on countries in the region to provide both humanitarian relief and reconstruction aid to the Iraqis.

Opposition leader in Baghdad

Ahmed Chalabi

Ahmed Chalabi

The meeting came one day after Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi (photo) made his first public appearance in Baghdad. On Friday, Chalabi and other senior members of the Iraqi National Congress established a new headquarters in an upscale neighborhood in the Iraqi capital. During the appearance -- his first since the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 -- Chalabi said there was currently no planned role for him in a new Iraqi government. But he also said the job of establishing a new government should be left to the United States because the United Nations lacks the capability and credibility.

"The moral imperative is on the side of the United States, and the Iraqi people will accept a leadership role for the United States in this process," he said. "The United States does not want to run Iraq."