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Arab nations snub Iraqi council

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

CAIRO, Egypt -- Arab League members decided Tuesday not to recognize Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, saying they will wait until a government is elected.

Arab officials welcomed the council's creation as a first step toward new leadership in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. But the decision Tuesday showed that Arab governments are keeping some distance from the body -- dismissed by many in Iraq and across the Arab world as a puppet of Iraq's U.S. and British occupiers.

The decision means Iraq's seat at the 22-member Arab League will remain empty for the time being.

'A start'

"The council is a start, but it should pave the way for a legitimate government that can be recognized," league Secretary-General Amr Moussa said after a committee of foreign ministers met to forge a unified stance on how to deal with Iraq.

The top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said in late July that general elections could be held in Iraq within a year to replace the council.

The Iraqi Governing Council did not send representatives to Tuesday's meeting in Cairo. Council members had bristled at earlier hints from Moussa that the Arab League would not embrace it.

"We don't want to go where we are not welcome," council member Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi told Qatar's al-Jazeera television last month. No immediate comment was available Tuesday from the Governing Council in Baghdad.

Last month, members of the council appeared before the U.N. Security council, but were not granted a seat at the United Nations.

The Arab League was deeply divided by the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam -- most sharply opposed it, but Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and several other nations actively helped the invasion. Many Iraqis felt they were betrayed by their fellow Arabs who supported Saddam.

Still involved

The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council held its first meeting July 13 and later named a nine-member presidency. It has the power to name ministers and approve the 2004 budget, but final control of Iraq still rests with Bremer.

In Cairo Tuesday, Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed bin Mubarak, said Arab countries will work to help Iraqis restore "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity." Bahrain currently holds the rotating Arab League presidency.

The Bahraini minister said Arab countries still want to take part in lucrative reconstruction projects in Iraq.

The one-day meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Lower ranking representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Sudan and Tunisia also attended.


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