Iraq's Hushiar Zibari, on his first mission abroad after his re-appointment as foreign minister in Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari's cabinet, joined counterparts from his country's six neighbours - Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - plus Egypt and Bahrain.

Yusuf al-Sharif, director of Aljazeera's office in Turkey, said a group picture of all attendees and participants would be taken. It would be the first time such a photo is taken with the participation of an elected Iraqi minister, al-Sharif said.

 

Al-Jafari, who had said he wanted to attend the gathering, was forced to stay in Baghdad because of ongoing efforts to complete the government line-up.

Vacant posts

After more than three months of political wrangling since landmark elections on 30 January, al-Jafari announced on Thursday only a partial line-up that was approved by parliament but disappointed the Sunni Muslim Arab community.

A Turkish government official said the discussions in Istanbul would focus on developments in Iraq since the elections and the next stages of the political process in the country, including the drafting of a constitution and preparations for elections in December.

"We believe Iraq's neighbours have an important and crucial role to help ... in the stabilisation of Iraq and of the region"

Hushiar Zibari,
foreign minister

Sunni involvement

The neighbours were expected to underline the need to encourage the Sunni Arabs - who mostly boycotted the January polls and are thought to provide the backbone of the uprising in the country - to get involved in the political process.

"The participation of all groups should be ensured in the next elections. This problem will be the core issue of the talks," the Turkish official said.

 

Infiltration

The ministers were also expected to discuss security matters such as the need to ensure that no fighters infiltrate Iraq to join the uprising there, a point on which Zibari put special emphasis ahead of the talks.

"We believe Iraq's neighbours have an important and crucial role to help ... in the stabilisation of Iraq and of the region," Zibari said in Baghdad on Friday.

He said he would raise the issue of "the infiltration of foreign fighters and terrorists and the transfer of funds and weapons" from neighbouring countries into Iraq.

Baghdad has accused Syria and Iran of allowing foreign fighters to cross their borders into Iraq.

Zibari said he would also discuss how neighbouring countries could benefit from "opportunities in the reconstruction" of his country.

Joint declaration

In preparatory talks on Friday, diplomats agreed on a draft joint declaration to be issued at the end of the meeting, a Turkish diplomat said.

Arab League representatives
were at the meeting

In addition to lending support to the new Iraqi government, the statement would call on regional countries to ensure the security of their borders and reaffirm the readiness of neighbours to help in the training of Iraqi security forces, he said.

Only Saudi Arabia's foreign minister was absent from the talks and represented by his deputy, organisers said.

The heads of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference as well as the UN envoy to Iraq and a European Union representative attended the meeting.

The foreign ministers have met regularly since January 2003, when Turkey spearheaded the initiative as part of efforts to force Baghdad to comply with UN resolutions and avert a US intervention.