Prashant Rao, AFP
Last updated: 17 March, 2012

Iraq backs idea of Arab peacekeepers

Iraq’s deputy foreign minister voiced support on Saturday for the idea of peacekeeping forces manned exclusively by Arab League troops but stopped short of backing a Qatari proposal to deploy one in Syria.

Labid Abbawi’s remarks come ahead of an Arab summit due in Baghdad on March 29, the first meeting of the 22-nation bloc in the Iraqi capital since the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

“We do support the idea, but of course there are a lot of details which have to be discussed,” Abbawi told AFP when asked if Iraq backed an Arab League peacekeeping force.

“But the idea is supported by us.”

He said he was not sure if the idea would be agreed at the upcoming summit, but said it was “a time to look at it again”.

Qatar has most forcefully advocated the idea of an Arab force, to be used particularly in Syria, and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday it was time to send Arab and other foreign troops to Syria.

“The time has come to apply the proposal to send Arab and international troops to Syria,” Sheikh Hamad said during a meeting of top diplomats that was to be joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Saturday.

Last month, Arab foreign ministers agreed to ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire.

Asked how Iraq would envision the force being used, Abbawi said: “We are talking about Arab forces similar to that of the UN peacekeeping force. It will not be a force that will go to take sides in any conflict or any problem.”

“It is a force where instead of having … a UN peacekeeping force, why not Arabs try to do that, to have an independent force which implements the mandate given to it by the Arab League.”

He added: “We are against foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Syria. We want the Syrian people to decide their own future, their own destiny, of their own will.”

While Iraq has largely shied away from imposing punitive measures against Syria, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for “change” and “free elections” there.

Monitors say more than 9,100 people have died in the uprising in Syria, while the United Nations estimates more than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring states and another 200,000 have been displaced.