The US-backed Iraqi government sent an official representative to this week's meeting of the Arab League Boycott Office in Damascus, The Jerusalem Post has learned, prompting criticism from members of Congress and the Bush administration.
Liaison officers from 14 countries met for four days this week to discuss ways of intensifying the Arab embargo against Israel. Among those taking part were delegates from several ostensible US allies, such as Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
Tom Casey, a spokesman for the US State Department, told the Post that Washington was unhappy with Baghdad's action.
"We are disappointed by the decision of the Iraqi government to attend this meeting, and will be noting our concerns with Iraqi officials," he said. "We have raised this issue with Iraqi officials in the past and expect to raise it with them again."
"The US position on the Arab League boycott is well known," Casey noted, adding that "perpetuation of the Arab League boycott does greatest harm to those who participate in it by hampering their efforts to develop their economies."
Members of Congress were also critical of the Iraqi move.
Rep. Paul Ryan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told the Post that "the US government has been very successful in negotiating the cancellation of Israeli boycotts from many countries throughout the Arab world. This would appear to be a big step in the wrong direction on the part of the new Iraqi government."
Ryan, a Republican, said he expected Washington to bring the matter up with Baghdad. "We should make our position clear, just like we do with every other Arab government," he said.
Contacted by phone, a spokesman for the Iraqi embassy in London declined to comment.
According to figures released this week by the Israel Export Institute, there has been a 46 percent rise in Israeli sales to Iraq (valued at $320,000), with 27 exporters active in that market dealing primarily with the US military.