Iraqi Leaders Upset Over Arab League Comments as Baghdad Conference Approaches

Iraq's Shiite leaders expressed anger Thursday at criticism leveled against them by the top Arab League official, warning that such remarks could overshadow this weekend's regional conference to ease the security crisis in Iraq.

Last weekend, the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, suggested that Arab governments may take their recommendations on quelling the bloodshed in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council.

Such a move would be widely interpreted as a failure of the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

In a statement Thursday, the United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shiite bloc in parliament, said Moussa's comments amounted to "flagrant interference in Iraq's internal affairs" and "ignored the march of the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic state."

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"At the same time we hope that the regional conference due to be held in Baghdad in March 10 will not be shadowed by such stands" and will not have a "negative impact" on efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis, the statement said.

During a press conference Thursday, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, also denounced Moussa's comments, saying they could provoke "sedition and disputes among Iraqi people."

"We hope that the Arab League will not be part of any dispute or quarrel inside Iraq that might encourage some parties to take some Arab countries to their sides to accomplish their political desires," al-Attiyah said.

Moussa's comments were made in Cairo, Egypt during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss participation in the Baghdad conference.

In a joint statement at the end of the meeting, the ministers said Iraq's leaders must take responsibility defusing the sectarian violence by redrafting the constitution and rescinding laws that they said give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds.

Such comments have reinforced Shiite fears that Iraq's Sunni neighbors will try to use the conference to pressure them into concessions to the Sunni minority that the Shiites would find unacceptable.

Sunni politicians complain that al-Maliki's offers of a role for Sunnis in government are simply slogans and that power is concentrated in a small Shiite clique.

The conference will include all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as well as the United States, Britain and the three other U.N. Security Council members.

Complete coverage is available in's Iraq Center.