BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's president accused neighboring Arab states on Tuesday of sowing discord in the country by backing Iraqi politicians he labeled seditious — including a leading Iraqi Sunni Arab leader.
"Regrettably some Arab countries are aiding sedition," Jalal Talabani's office quoted him as saying in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The statement issued by Talabani's office did not name the states to which he was referring.
However, it said the president, a Kurd, singled out hard-line Sunni cleric Harith al-Dhari for special criticism, saying al-Dhari has "nothing to do other than incite sectarian and ethnic sedition." Al-Dhari regularly travels between Iraq and the Persian Gulf states, as well as Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
"My belief, is that they (Arab states) are helping Sunni Arabs. They support individuals that incite sedition," Talabani was quoted as saying.
Al-Dhari, the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, is a fervent critic of al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government. In a television interview last week, he mocked a government offer to end three years of insurgency and bloody sectarian violence by negotiating with anti-government insurgents, excluding Sunni extremists, members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, and those who fought U.S. troops in the country.
"Whom then do they wish to negotiate with? Armed criminals?" al-Dhari asked.
Talabani's implied criticism of Syria meshes with claims by the U.S. and Iraqi governments that Damascus is doing little to prevent foreign fighters from entering the country. Syria denies that accusation, saying it is impossible to control the long desert border.
However, al-Maliki has also moved to heal ties with Damascus, saying Sunday he was ready to take "five steps" toward Syria if it took one in Iraq's direction.
Iraq recently invited Syria's foreign minister to visit, an offer he accepted, although no date has been set yet for the visit.