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Sunday, September 12, 1999 Published at 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK


World: Middle East

Iraq on League agenda

The League is scene of Arab rifts as often as Arab unity

Iraq has used its chairmanship of the Arab League's biannual meeting to call for unity against outside security threats, particularly from the United States.

It is the first time Baghdad has held the rotating chairmanship of the 22-member body since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf said he favoured an Arab summit or meeting at a lower level to respond to "US pressure to impose hegemony on the region".


[ image: Sahhaf: First Iraqi chairman since Iraqi  invasion of Kuwait]
Sahhaf: First Iraqi chairman since Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
"The current situation presents great threats to the Arab nation's security, which results from pressure from the US and their favouritism of Israel," Mr Sahhaf said in his inaugural speech.

Some western powers - especially the US - have expressed disquiet that the foreign ministers' meeting is being chaired by Iraq.

But the Arab League insisted it would not change its practice of rotating the chairmanship.

The meeting comes at a significant time, as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are due to meet in London this week to try to reach a common position on international sanctions imposed on Iraq since 1991.

Many Arab states are deeply uneasy about the civilian suffering cause by the sanctions and Western air strikes against Iraq, although some are also concerned to ensure Iraq can no longer threaten its neighbours.

Memories of 1990

In his speech to the gathering, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urged reconciliation between Iraq and the other Arab states.


[ image: Kuwait has never forgiven Yasser Arafat for supporting Saddam]
Kuwait has never forgiven Yasser Arafat for supporting Saddam
He called on "brothers to turn the bitter page of the past, and open another one of co-operation and cohesion, drawing lessons from the experience of division."

Mr Arafat also sent his greetings to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a move that risks reviving Kuwaiti anger about the Palestinians' open support of the Iraqi leadership in 1990-91.

In the past, Kuwait has shown no softening of its hardline stance towards its erstwhile occupier, but Foreign Minister Suleiman al-Shaheen said before the meeting that he was going to Cairo with "an open heart and mind".

Among the 46 points on the agenda are:

  • Boycotts against Disney and Burger King
  • Reviewing relations with Turkey over Euphrates dams (sponsored by Syria)
  • Condemnation of Israeli weapons of mass destruction capabilities

Correspondents say the fact that the Iraqis have not asked for the UN embargo to be put on the agenda indicates that Baghdad is seeking to smooth over potential rifts.

In January, the Iraqi foreign minister stormed out of an Arab ministerial meeting in protest at what he regarded as the feeble attitude of most Arab states on the issue of sanctions and the Western bombing campaign.



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