Amir Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani also said on Monday Arabs could no longer use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and security fears to justify delaying much needed political, social and economic change. 

"The calls for reform coming from abroad need reflection by the people of our region before rejecting it. They should be carefully studied so that if it is accepted, it is with confidence and if it is rejected, it is justified," he told the opening session of a conference on democracy and free trade. 

US President George Bush believes lack of freedom in the Muslim world helps fuel terrorism and has pledged to promote democratic reform. But Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two key US allies, have rejected the US initiative and warned Washington against imposing ready made recipes. 

Arab leaders have complained the initiative does not address the Arab-Israeli conflict, which they see as key to the region's woes. Some have also warned the West that free elections might bring extremists to power. 

'Problems of our own creation'

"Honesty obliges us to stress that the wrath in our region does not spring only from the Palestinian cause but goes deeper and is due to problems of our own creation that have nothing to do with the outside world - problems that we allowed to grow unremedied and unchecked," Shaikh Hamad said. 

"The adoption of reforms has always been the right way to stability"

Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatari Amir

"For years, loud voices have been coming out from the region ... claiming that if popular participation is broadened it would only result in bringing in those who would endanger peace and put an end to security. 

"Yet, the adoption of reforms has always been the right way to stability," said Shaikh Hamad. Similar calls by the amir have been ignored by Arab leaders who were irked by the small Gulf state hosting the command centre for the deeply unpopular US war on Iraq and by Doha's contacts with Israel. 

'Civil war'

Qatar was the command centre
for the US-led war on Iraq

Also on Monday, Qatar said it feared a civil war could break out in Iraq and that the country was becoming a "fertile ground for terrorists". 

"The developments in Iraq in the last few days are alarming and we fear that we are facing a civil war in Iraq reminding me of what happened in Afghanistan and Lebanon," Qatari Foreign Minister Shaikh Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

"We are worried about the cluster of resistance and terrorist organisations in Iraq which has become a fertile ground for these people to implement their extremist ideology," said the foreign minister.