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Arabs voice fear of civil war in Iraq

Arab leaders expressed growing alarm Tuesday that Iraq could fall into all-out civil war, but they offered mostly rhetorical backing for President Bush's new plan to try to stabilize the country with more troops and economic aid.

While representatives of eight Arab nations said they welcomed Bush's initiative, their focus in talks here with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the worsening sectarian strife in Iraq, which they fear could also engulf them.

"Nine foreign ministers are meeting in Kuwait precisely to prevent Iraq from sliding into a civil war. And that speaks volumes," said Kuwait's foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed al-Sabah.

In a written statement, the group said it backs Bush's speech last week on Iraq and U.S. commitment to defend the oil-rich Persian Gulf's security.

The U.S. also has been urging Arab nations to join it in a more robust stance to counter Iran, which has sought to spread its influence to Iraq and which Washington and others say seeks a nuclear weapon.

But the communique issued after Rice met with her counterparts in a vast royal conference center here didn't mention Iran and instead called vaguely for countries to respect "the principle of noninterference" in other countries' affairs. A Rice aide said that was aimed at Iran.

The document didn't mention Iran's nuclear program.

Many Arab nations argue arms proliferation can't be discussed without including Israel's nuclear arsenal.

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