KUWAITIraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki chided neighboring states on Tuesday for failing to bolster ties with Baghdad and write off Iraq's debts now that Saddam Hussein is gone and Iraq is not a threat to the region.
Maliki, speaking at a meeting in Kuwait of foreign ministers from the region and Western powers, did not name any countries but his remarks appeared aimed at Sunni Arab states that have only low-level ties with his Shi'ite-led government.
He said Iraq was now a vastly different country from that under Saddam, who ruled Iraq with an iron fist for decades until he was ousted in 2003 by U.S.-led forces.
"Iraq today is different from the previous Iraq which assaulted its neighbors," Maliki said.
He said Iraq was ready to play a "constructive role" in fostering security and stability in the region and urged neighboring states to open embassies in Baghdad.
"It's difficult for us to explain why diplomatic ties have not been resumed with Iraq. Many other foreign countries have kept diplomatic missions in Baghdad regardless of security considerations," Maliki said.
No ambassador from a Sunni Arab nation has been stationed permanently in Baghdad since Egypt's envoy was kidnapped and killed shortly after arriving in 2005. Visits by top officials from Arab states, which have been reluctant to extend full legitimacy to Iraq's U.S.-backed government, are also rare.
By comparison, Iraq has growing ties with non-Arab Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has pushed Arab states to be more responsive on ties and debt relief, said Iraq was being reintegrated into the Arab neighborhood. Some states had stepped forward to offer diplomatic representation in Baghdad, she told reporters without providing any specifics.
"We urge Iraq's neighbors to strengthen their ties," Rice said.
Promises have been made by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to open up embassies in Baghdad. Washington hopes that if regional powerhouse Riyadh announces dates then others will follow.
The Kuwait meeting is a follow-on from gatherings of Iraq's neighbors as well as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that were held in Turkey and Egypt last year.
The next meeting would be held in Baghdad, Rice said, calling it "yet another sign that things are moving forward".
But violence continued in Iraq. The U.S. military announced three Marines had been killed in the past two days.
North of Baghdad, a female suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded 17 when she blew herself up outside a police station, police said. And in Baghdad, a rocket attack in the city's east killed six people and wounded 10, police added.
Maliki said Iraq was still waiting for debt relief.
About $66.5 billion of Iraq's $120.2 billion foreign debt has been forgiven, according to State Department estimates. Of the estimated $56 billion to $80 billion debt that remains, more than half is owed to Gulf Arab countries, the department said.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, had agreed to create committees to study the question of reducing Iraq's compensation payments imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, asked if he was disappointed there was not more tangible support for Iraq on debt relief or diplomatic ties, said: "I think we have some commitments, but we have to be patient with our Arab brothers."
Speaking at the closing news conference, Zebari added: "We are not saying that there is absolute security. But there is an opportunity for embassies to work in a safe area."
A statement issued at the meeting urged other states, particularly Iraq's neighbors, to "open or reopen their diplomatic missions" and said the participants welcomed the Iraqi government's "commitment to disarm all militias and extra-governmental armed group."
Maliki's security forces have been battling the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for the past month. The cleric has threatened an "open war" unless Maliki calls off a crackdown in Baghdad and southern Shi'ite cities.
The U.S. military said on Tuesday it had killed five militants overnight in the cleric's east Baghdad stronghold Sadr City. Since Sadr's threat on Saturday U.S. forces say they have killed about 50 fighters in the capital.