News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqBritish defence secretary calls for countries to support, not...

British defence secretary calls for countries to support, not impede Iraq

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AFP: British Defence Secretary John Reid on Monday called on Iran and other countries in the region to “support rather than impede” Iraq’s move towards democracy. by Phil Hazlewood

LONDON, March 20, 2006 (AFP) – British Defence Secretary John Reid on Monday called on Iran and other countries in the region to “support rather than impede” Iraq’s move towards democracy.

In a speech in central London, Reid highlighted the ongoing security challenges for US-led coalition forces, particularly the “mixed loyalties” in the local police force in the south, where he has spent the last three days.

In a question-and-answer session after his address, the minister said that aside from the “natural historical connections” of Shia Islam, there were also similarities with the Islamic Republic’s support for extremist groups.

This was demonstrated in the technology used for roadside bombs targeting British troops and civilians in southern Iraq, he added. “We have raised this with the Iranians. They have denied it, therefore I would say to anybody on the borders of Iraq, ‘don’t interfere to prevent the people of Iraq choosing their own future’,” he said.

He added: “I would also like to see countries in the area support rather than impede Iraq, for example Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Turkey. They, I believe, and others, have a role to play.

“I hope that all neighbours of Iraq will help towards the establishment of a democratic government, the protection of the Iraqi people and the beginnings of economic development rather than interfere in any other way.”

In his remarks, three years after the US-led invasion, Reid called upon all Iraqi politicians to form a national unity government as soon as possible to give the strongest possible sign of defiance to insurgents.

He also reiterated his assertions of the last week that despite the upsurge in sectarian violence, Iraq had not descended into civil war.

He acknowledged that mistakes had been made by the coalition and that it would take time to move fully to democracy, comparing the three years to the sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland that date back eight centuries.

“But those people who say that the people of Iraq are better off under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein have not spoken to many Iraqis,” he added.

In an upbeat speech about what he said was the “significant progress” made in security, economic development and civic society, Reid acknowledged that the situation was “serious, but it is not terminal”.

He said it was a credit to the resilience and endurance of the Iraqi people and politicians that they had not bowed to extremists like the fugitive Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

“It is now crucial that they respond to the terrorists … by uniting, in the speedy formation of a strong, representative government of national unity, bringing together all of the democratic politicians, all of the talents of the ethnic groups and all of the denominations,” he stressed in his address.

“In short, all of the people of Iraq against the terrorist enemy. That would be the strongest response to the terrorists who seek division, the strongest signal to the international community who seek progress and the strongest reassurance to the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq who want peace and stability.”

Reid last week announced a 10 percent reduction in the British contingent in Iraq to about 7,000 troops but revealed that no final timetable for a full withdrawal of coalition forces was discussed during his visit to Basra.

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