* Iraq takes more moderate position on Syria
* Maliki appeals as 'Friends of Syria' meet in Turkey
BAGHDAD, April 1 (Reuters) - Iraq on Sunday warned Arab
countries against supplying weapons and financial support to
rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying
such moves risked escalating the conflict.
"We want to extinguish the fire by draining the sources of
force, we want to find a peaceful solution to the crisis," Iraqi
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters at a press
"We reject any arming of the opposition, we reject attempts
to bring down the regime by force, because it will leave a wider
crisis in the region," he added.
Maliki made the appeal as foreign ministers from around 70
countries including the United States and leading European and
Gulf powers met in Istanbul to try to agree how best to support
the Syrian opposition.
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has adopted a more moderate
position on Syria than Sunni Gulf neighbours Qatar and Saudi
Arabia which have advocated supplying arms to the Syrian rebels.
If Assad were to lose power, Iraqi Shi'ite leaders are
worried their own country's fragile sectarian balance among
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurds could be unsettled, especially if a
hardline Sunni regime replaced the Assad government.
Both Iraq and Syria have close ties to Shi'ite power Iran,
which is caught in a regional power struggle for more influence
with Sunni Arab Gulf countries.
At a summit in Baghdad last week, Arab League members agreed
to endorse a six-point peace plan drawn up by special United
Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which calls for a
ceasefire and talks with the opposition.
On Sunday, Western and Arab nations met in Istanbul for the
"Friends of Syria" Conference, seeking to exert more pressure on
Assad who accepted the plan but has so far failed to implement
The participants are sceptical of his promises to end a year
of bloodshed, but are not expected to agree to arm rebels or to
fully recognise an opposition council.
"This conference will only hear the same voice that calls
for armament," Maliki said.
The Saudi foreign minister said on Saturday it was a "duty"
to arm the Syrian rebels, but Western powers are anxious not to
be drawn into a possibly intractable conflict.
Despite Annan's mediation efforts, violence has raged
unabated. Opposition activists reported at least 16 people
killed on Sunday, mostly in clashes in northwestern and eastern
Syrian media derided the Istanbul meeting, with the ruling
Baath party newspaper describing it as "a regional and
international scramble to find ways of killing more Syrians and
destroying their society and country, to reach the broad goal of
Iraq itself is trying to rebuild after years of war
following the 2003 invasion that toppled the regime of Saddam
Hussein. Insurgents and suicide bombers often crossed the porous
border from Syria during the height of the country's conflict.
(Writing by Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Andrew Osborn)