Iraqi PM calls for “change” in Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday called for "change" and "free elections" in Syria, which has been rocked by violent clashes between government forces and rebels.

"Iraq backs change in Syria," Maliki told Saudi newspaper Okaz in an as-yet unpublished interview, excerpts of which were released by his office in a statement.

"Change is necessary. The situation will not be stable without change."

Maliki did not elaborate on what kind of change he wished to see, but said Syrians "must receive more freedom, and form a national unity government as a first step, and free elections should be held under Arab and UN supervision."

He added that "a national council must be chosen which will write a new constitution," according to the excerpted quotes.

Iraq has shied away from imposing punitive measures against Syria as President Bashar al-Assad's regime has carried out a bloody crackdown over the past 11 months on an uprising against his rule in which rights groups say 7,600 people have been killed.

Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the majority of Syrians, and of his opponents, are Sunni Muslims.

Iraq, by contrast, is governed by majority Shiite Muslims, but has a substantial Sunni Arab minority.

Baghdad said on Friday it would not invite the Syrian government or opposition to an Arab summit to be held in the Iraqi capital in late March, after an Arab League request that Damascus not attend.

Arab League member states voted in November to suspend Syria's participation in the Arab League because of the violence.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

For live updates on the Syrian uprising, follow @NOW_Syria on Twitter or click here.