BAGHDAD – Iraq’s foreign minister chided the U.S. and Britain for not taking an active role in resolving his country’s bitter election dispute, and accused Washington of being more concerned with sending home U.S. soldiers.

In an interview published Saturday in a London-based Arabic language newspaper, Hoshyar Zebari also warned of a political vacuum in the country still struggling to seat a government almost two months after the March 7 election as American troops prepare to leave.

Zebari complained that the U.S. and Britain have stood on the sidelines of the current dispute, and appeared to urge them to be more aggressive in pushing Iraq’s rival political blocs toward a compromise.

“Their (U.S. and Britain) role is absent in this election, and this has made matters more difficult,” Zebari said in comments in the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He noted that after Iraq’s 2005 elections, both nations played a key role in cajoling Iraqi politicians into forming a government.

The foreign minister’s stance appeared to put him at odds with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has slammed a proposal put forward by his chief rival that sought international intervention in setting up a new government. Al-Maliki said such a role would undermine Iraq’s efforts to become fully independent.

The prime minister’s Shiite coalition narrowly lost by two seats to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s cross-sectarian Iraqiya, but neither garnered enough to rule alone, setting off protracted wrangling over the formation of the next government.

Zebari also suggested Washington should reconsider its Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing all U.S. military combat troops from Iraq if a new government is still not formed by midsummer.

“The American opinion so far is to let Iraqis solve their problems by themselves,” Zebari said. “Their message to us is: ‘Solve your problems quickly so that we can withdraw quickly.’ “

In a second interview Saturday, with Iraq’s al-Sharqiya TV, Zebari said neighboring countries were waiting for U.S. troops to leave so they could step in and fill Iraq’s political vacuum.


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