The people of Iraq must face up to their differences and realize that they have no future except together, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
Rice, speaking to a gathering of world business leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam, said she was not downplaying the challenges Iraq faces. She reiterated Washington's determination to stay the course and work with the Iraqi people for peace.
But she said that ultimately, success depends on the people of Iraq themselves -- just as Vietnam has chosen to put aside the antagonisms of its past.
Iraqis should make good, tough decisions like Vietnam did, face up to their differences and "realize that they only have one future and that's a future together," Rice said.
"They don't have a future if they try and stay apart," she added.
"If they do that and if we support them and if we remain committed to them and if we realize that the stakes in Iraq are literally the stakes for a different kind of Middle East that can form the center of a more peaceful world ... they can and will have a better chance," she said.
Meanwhile the top leadership in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government fell into deeper disarray, with an official close to the prime minister disavowing an arrest warrant issued against the country's most influential Sunni leader.
The official, with intimate knowledge of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's thinking, said on Friday that the Iraqi leader had not known his interior minister was planning to call for the arrest of the revered leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, Sheik Harith al-Dhari.
"We will work so that the arrest warrant is not acted upon," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the internal Shiite conflict.
For his part, al-Dhari said the government's bid to arrest him was illegal, and his spokesman urged Sunni politicians to quit the parliament and government.
The brewing crisis threatened the already shaky al-Maliki government and could provoke an even more violent surge in Iraq's sectarian conflict as the country teeters on the edge of civil war.
The new upheaval began late on Thursday when Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, announced on state television that he had issued the arrest warrant on grounds that al-Dhari allegedly incited terrorism and violence.
The move enraged moderate members of Iraq's Sunni minority, who had already threatened over recent weeks to walk out of government and parliament and take up arms. They have charged the al-Maliki government with discrimination and failure to act on measures important to the Sunni community and necessary for national reconciliation.
After al-Bolani announced the warrant was issued, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, also a Shiite, sought to minimize it as an "investigation warrant." The spokesman said it is up to judicial authorities to issue an arrest warrant.
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said the Cabinet and the president's office had no knowledge about the arrest warrant. He called for an urgent meeting of political leaders to review the government's work.