Former Iraqi PM meets Saudi King
IRAQ: Saudi King Abdullah, head of the most influential Sunni
nation in the Middle East, held talks on Saturday with former Iraqi
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi who leads a secular Sunni-Shi’ite coalition
into parliamentary elections.
The Saudi official SPA news agency gave no details about the talks
which it said were also attended by the head of Saudi intelligence,
Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz.
Saudi Arabia has maintained a neutral stance on the often-violent
sectarian tensions that have been ripping Iraq apart since the 2003
US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.
But the kingdom is concerned over the growing influence in Iraq and
other countries in the region of its regional Shi’ite rival Iran.
Allawi is also a Shi’ite, but is a secularist, anathema to Iran’s
religious rulers who have backed Shi’ite Islamist parties in Iraq.
The leader of Allawi’s Sunni allies in the Iraqiya electoral bloc,
Saleh al-Mutlaq, withdrew his National Dialogue Front from the March 7
ballot after he was banned from running for alleged links to Saddam’s
outlawed, Sunni-dominated Baath party.
Mutlaq was one of about 145 candidates from different parties whose
appeals against a decision by a Shi’ite-dominated commission to bar them
from the vote were rejected this month.
The ban actually affects more Shi’ites than Sunnis, but it includes
prominent Sunnis and Shi’ites seeking secular alliances that are
expected to fare well against the religious Shi’ite Islamist parties
that have dominated Iraq since the invasion. The Iraqiya list said it
would continue to participate in the election despite the boycott by one
party in the alliance.
Iraq’s once-dominant minority Sunnis largely shunned the national
vote in 2005, fuelling a bloody insurgency that U.S. and Iraqi officials
hope Sunni participation in the coming election will help end.