A two-day conference of Iraq's neighbours was held in Kuwait recently with the participation of foreign ministers and high-ranking officials from 29 countries, as well as regional and international organisations, to discuss the country's relations with its neighbours and means of bringing stability and security to the war-scarred country.

The conference was also attended by Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State. Travelling in the region prior to the conference, Rice asked US Arab allies to strengthen their ties with Iraq as a way of countering the growing influence of Iran and reinforcing its Arab identity.

She urged Arab countries to reopen their diplomatic missions in Baghdad and to support Iraq politically and economically.

The US believes that the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki needs backing at this critical time. Iraq's government is facing internal dangers and challenges, embodied in Al Qaida's terrorist activities, the refusal of the Al Mahdi army to turn in their weapons to Iraqi security forces and other external challenges, that are the outcome of neighbouring countries support of militias.

All these challenges are jeopardising Iraq's stability. The internal and external dangers facing Iraq are highly interwoven, as solving one problem without the other is useless.

The activities of both Al Qaida and Al Mahdi army have soared up lately, in a manner which may lead to questions about a possible direct cooperation between the two, or indirectly, through concealed forces.

The clash between allies and partners in the Iraqi political process is strikingly evident. Speaking on state television, Al Maliki described the Mahdi Army as "worse than Al Qaida".

Al Maliki also said that the campaign on Basra and other southern cities targeted outlaws and was not directed against one particular political bloc. Al Maliki was referring to the Sadrist movement, his former ally in the Unified Iraqi Coalition bloc.

The Sadrist movement headed by Moqtada Al Sadr considers the government's offensive as a plan to liquidate it before the up-coming October governorate council elections.

Dangers surrounding Al Maliki's government escalated with Moqtada Al Sadr's threats to declare "open war" if a security crackdown by Iraqi and US forces against his loyalists is not called off.

Tensions in Basra and other southern Iraqi cities are still high, and clashes between the Al Mahdi army and government forces backed by US forces continue, in the largest escalation witnessed in the Iraqi political scene.

The Kuwait conference was the third event of its kind in the past 12 months. The first meeting of Iraq's neighbours and other nations was held in May 2007 in Egypt, while the second November conference took place in Turkey. Both conferences did not yield tangible results to enhance and strengthen Iraq's position.

This conference seems a bit different from the two previous conferences. The list of attending countries indicates a much larger international presence.

It is also expected to yield some improvements in Iraq's situation for many reasons: the international community feels guilty that it has not given enough to assist Iraq in standing on its two feet again.

Another reason is that there is a better dialogue between the different Iraqi blocks in the political process, and the awareness of many Arab leaders to the eminence of resuming diplomatic relations with Iraq and actively contributing in paving Iraq's way towards the future.

Claiming improved security in Iraq and a determined bid by the Iraqi leadership to defend national rather than sectarian interests, Rice urged Arab leaders attending the Kuwait conference to send their diplomats back to Baghdad and ease Iraq's debt load.

There are strong US motivations for exerting pressure on Arab countries and the Arab League to return their diplomatic missions to Baghdad. Most of the Arab embassies were closed down for security reasons, some diplomats were abducted and other embassies were shelled.

The re-instatement of these embassies currently is necessary for several reasons: the security situation in Iraq improved over the last few months, despite occasional blasts and most Arab countries have deep rooted economic, political and cultural interests in Iraq.

The most important reason, as Rice indicated in a frank manner, is the counter balance to Iran's role and influence in Iraq.

On the other hand, Iraq only received promises from Arab countries to cancel its $40 billion loans.

Rice also declared on April 21 that Iraq will be a part of the periodical meetings between the US, six Gulf countries, Jordan and Egypt. The new group will be called US-Six-plus-Three. The announcement was made in Manama that very same day.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.