Gulf Arabs say opposed to partition of Iraq

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RIYADH, Oct 2 (Reuters) The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which brings together energy-rich Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia today said Gulf Arabs were strongly opposed to any partition of Iraq.

Last week the US Senate passed a resolution calling for a federal government and creation of federal regions as a solution to sectarian violence which Washington fears could descend into full-blown civil war if it withdraws its forces.

It provoked a storm of protest from Iraqi politicians including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who said it would be a disaster for Iraq. Only Iraq's Kurds, who already enjoy autonomy in the north of the country, openly welcomed it.

''We in the Gulf Cooperation Council reject any policies that lean towards separatism and we insist on the unity of Iraq. We are keen to avoid any contact with those who support partition,'' Abdul-Rahman al-Attiya said in a statement issued on the official Saudi news agency SPA.

Attiya speaks in the name of the six GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. They include major world oil and gas producers.

''Logic dictates sticking to efforts to strengthen Iraq and return it to the Arab fold,'' Attiya said.

Earlier this year Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called the US military presence in Iraq an ''illegitimate occupation''.

Arab states have long insisted to Washington that Iraq must remain a unitary state.

Arab leaders, mostly Sunni Muslims, fear partition would further weaken minority Sunni Arabs and strengthen the Shi'ite Arab majority in their ties with non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran.

Some Shi'ite forces in Iraq strongly favour creating a federal system that would give the oil-rich Shi'ite south virtual autonomy, which Kurds already have in the north.

REUTERS ARB KP2006

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