updated 3/4/2007 7:28:53 PM ET 2007-03-05T00:28:53

The Iraqi government is responsible for defusing the sectarian violence tearing the country apart and should redraft the constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds, Arab foreign ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also hinted that Arab governments may take their recommendations on stemming the violence in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council if the government’s efforts to end the crisis fail.

Sunday’s statement was the strongest sign yet from the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab governments in the Middle East that they blame the Iraqi government for the country’s sectarian strife.

“The resolution of the conflict lies on the Iraqi government and the Iraqi leaders whose first responsibility should be to reactivate efforts for national reconciliation,” the ministers said in a statement released after they met in Cairo.

New recommendations
In the statement, the ministers set forth several recommendations they want the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consider before they give their full support to a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that is scheduled to start Saturday in Baghdad.

Among the recommendations are expanding the political process to achieve broader participation of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, confronting sectarian tensions and working to eliminate them, speeding up constitutional reform, and ensuring the equal distribution of wealth.

The ministers also called for revoking an Iraqi law that dismissed senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from the government and urged the government to pass a law that specifically says Iraqis should be treated equally based on their citizenship, not their religion or ethnicity.

In addition, they called on the Iraqi government to disband Shiite militias, end armed demonstrations and decide on a specific timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Though Iraq’s Cabinet last week endorsed a new oil law designed to distribute wealth equally among the population, it was not expected that al-Maliki would agree to all or even some of the Arab ministers’ recommendations. The U.S. has also turned down calls for setting a date to withdraw its troops, which make up the vast majority of the foreign forces in Iraq.

Minister: U.N. should demand reform
Moussa went a step further in his comments, suggesting the U.N. Security Council should demand the reforms suggested by the Arab ministers.

“In my opinion, the mechanism (for ending the strife) should be through the Security Council, without that there will no solution,” Moussa told reporters after Sunday’s meeting.

Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been deeply disturbed by what they view as a Shiite bias on the part of Iraq’s Shiite-led government as sectarian violence has flared in recent months. Earlier Sunday, the ministers had pledged to send representatives to the Baghdad meeting next weekend despite their reservations about the country’s direction.

The Baghdad meeting, which is expected to be the first in a series of regional conferences, is an attempt by the Iraqi government to formulate ideas to stabilize the country. The U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia and Syria have said they will attend.

Iran, which Baghdad also invited, has only said it will consider attending.

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