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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Arab states take new Iraq aboard
Iraq's new Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari
Zebari has spent most of his life fighting Saddam Hussein
Iraq's US-appointed caretaker government has formally joined the Arab League, filling the vacancy left by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

It was a "major political achievement for the Governing Council [GC]", said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari after attending his first ministerial meeting in Cairo.

The League, which acts as a forum for states in the region, decided after a lengthy debate to allow the GC to represent Iraq for a period of one year.

Mr Zebari stressed that the GC plans to hold free elections in the middle of 2004 in order to create a permanent government.

"We are very pleased and satisfied about the outcome of this meeting," the new foreign minister, a member of Iraq's long-persecuted Kurdish minority, told reporters.

Correspondents say the GC's admission to the League is a critical step towards it attaining official recognition in the Arab world.

Arab governments have not formally recognised the GC for fear of giving legitimacy to the American occupation of Iraq.

Pressure on League

Iraq's seat at the 22-member Arab League has remained empty since Saddam was ousted by the US-led coalition in April.

We are the representatives of the de facto Iraqi authority - we need to be represented at this ministerial meeting
Hoshyar Zebari

The decision to admit the GC was announced by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal after a late-night session of Arab foreign ministers.

A senior Arab League official said the decision was a compromise between those adamantly opposed to dealing with the new body and those in favour.

Mr Zebari said that the GC needed to be a member of the League as it represented the "de facto Iraqi authority".

The BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi in Cairo says the issue has divided the Arab world.

Last month, ministers from 11 Arab states and the Palestinian Authority refused to recognise the GC as a legitimate government and ruled out sending troops to help US forces stabilise Iraq.

Our correspondent says that one possible explanation for the League's U-turn is that the Americans have brought considerable pressure on member states to back the council.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"There were fears in Baghdad that the more radical Arab states might block the US led administration"

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