The "Friends of Syria" conference on Sunday is expected to see representatives of 71 countries
Qatari Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Than gives his speech during the first "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis, February 2012. Iraq may not participate in the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul as it wants to maintain its ability to serve as a mediator © Fethi Belaid - AFP/File
The
AFP
Last updated: March 31, 2012

Iraq may skip 'Friends of Syria' meet

Iraq may not participate in the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul on Sunday as it wants to maintain its ability to serve as a mediator, the Iraqi prime minister's spokesman said.

"We want to maintain our mediation role, and the role of mediator sometimes requires not participating in this conference or that," Ali Mussawi told AFP.

Iraq wants "to maintain (its) active role in the mediation and work for the sake of reaching a solution that will preserve the rights of the Syrian people, and stop further bloodshed," he said.

This attitude and Iraq's firm refusal to arm the rebellion in Syria, expressed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at an Arab summit in Baghdad on Thursday, are at odds with Qatar, which held the rotating Arab League presidency prior to Iraq.

The United Nations says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on the uprising against his rule has cost more than 9,000 lives since it eruped in March last year.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have called for Assad to step down and for the rebels to be armed. Both countries sent low-level delegations to the summit in Baghdad in what Qatar said was a "message" to Baghdad.

The "Friends of Syria" conference on Sunday is expected to see representatives of 71 countries, while the Syrian opposition is to be represented by the Syrian National Council.

The conference, like its predecessor in Tunis late February, will again lack participation from Russia and China, the two supporters of Assad's regime now shunned by its Arab neighbours and most of its former Western allies.

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