Iraq said it would try to convince neighbouring Syria to accept an Arab League deal to end unrest and head off sweeping economic sanctions, during a visit by the group’s chief to Baghdad on Thursday.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi told journalists in the Iraqi capital that “the ball is in the Syrian court” but warned that if Damascus wanted to avoid sanctions, it would have to sign on to the initiative.
“Our conversation (with Iraq) … was to explore whether the Iraqi government is willing to exert its influence with Syria,” Arabi said at a joint news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
“The Iraqi government told us that it will carry out contacts with the Syrian government to resolve this issue.”
Zebari added: “We will exert efforts and discuss with the Syrian government how to remove all the obstacles facing this initiative.”
Arabi declined to set a deadline for Syria to agree to the plan.
“The ball is in the Syrian court. They can come and sign at any time, perhaps 24 hours after that, there will be the observers there. It’s up to them. They want to stop the economic sanctions, they sign.”
Iraq has refused to enforce the sweeping sanctions against Damascus approved by the Arab League on November 27 over the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on protests.
Those measures included an immediate freeze on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and of Syrian regime assets in Arab countries.
But Iraq’s close trade ties with Syria, from which it imports significant amounts of foodstuffs, pushed the Iraqi government to abstain from the Arab League vote on sanctions.
Zebari said Iraq’s abstention from the vote on the Syrian sanctions was due to its position as a geographic neighbour, a major trading partner, and the fact that a large Iraqi community lives in Syria.
“This doesn’t contradict… (Iraq) standing and speaking out, condemning bloodshed,” he added. “We can help, we can play a useful role to support the Arab initiative.”
Local human rights groups said more than 100 people have been killed in Syria since the weekend, and the UN estimates at least 4,000 have died since March when anti-regime protests erupted.
“There are accusations from both sides, and what is needed now … is to inject a third party which is observers from all Arab countries… to try, by their presence, to stop or at least decrease greatly the violence,” Arabi said.