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Iraq war 'a disaster,' Mideast leaders tell Annan

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 (Reuters) Most West Asia leaders believe the US-led invasion of Iraq was a disaster for the region, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

But the leaders he spoke with during a two-week visit to the West Asia were divided over whether the multinational force now in Iraq should pull out or stay, Annan told a news conference.

''So in a way, the US has found itself in a position where it cannot stay and it cannot leave. And I believe, if it has to leave, the timing has to be optimum and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region,'' the UN leader said.

Annan, who returned from a swing through the region last week, said most of the leaders he spoke to ''felt the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has been a real disaster for them.

They believe it has destabilized the region.'' Annan said many leaders thought the United States had to stay in the country until things improved, ''and that, having created the problem, they cannot walk away.'' ''Then you have another school of thought, particularly in Iran, that believe that the presence of the US is a problem and that the US should leave. And if the US were to decide to leave, they would help them leave,'' he said.

The secretary-general has previously angered Washington by calling the March 2003 invasion illegal because it was launched without the approval of the UN Security Council, and by saying the war had not left the world a safer place.

Annan said he expected 33 countries and international institutions to attend a meeting at UN headquarters next week of the International Compact with Iraq, which aims to encourage international support for reconstruction and ease the poverty that has helped fuel the insurgency.

''The Iraq compact is an idea that the Iraqi government came up with, and we are working with them on this to really help strengthen their economic and financial systems, and also seek international support,'' Annan said.

REUTERS LL RN2359

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