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Iraq Boycotts Arab League Meeting Over Mubarak Comments


Arab foreign ministers have met in Cairo to talk about Iraq, even though the Iraqi government boycotted the meeting over comments made recently by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The topic of discussion was Iraq, but the Iraq seat was empty.

Iraqi officials refused to take part in the Cairo meeting, angered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's recent comments questioning the loyalty of Iraqi Shi'ites.

The boycott came even though the talks were hosted by the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, and not by the Egyptian government.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said there was no question of calling it off, but he is optimistic that Iraq will rejoin the discussion in later meetings.

"The meeting has taken place, because of our unanimous belief that the situation in Iraq is so serious that we have to sit and talk to each other about it," he said. "It would have been much, much, much better had the Iraq representative been here."

In the absence of the Iraqi delegation, the secretary general said he will speak with the Iraqi foreign minister to explain what was talked about.

The main topic of discussion was a reconciliation conference scheduled to be held in Jordan in June.

Mr. Moussa said the flap over Mr. Mubarak's remarks and the Iraqi boycott will not stop the Arab League from opening its new office in Baghdad as planned.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya aired on Saturday, Mr. Mubarak said civil war is on Iraq's doorstep, and he said Shi'ite Muslims are more loyal to Tehran than they are to their own countries.

A presidential spokesman has repeatedly tried to downplay the remarks. He issued another statement to the state news agency Wednesday saying Mr. Mubarak's statement simply reflected his deep concern over the current state of affairs in Iraq, and that he does not discriminate between Iraqis.

The Egyptian leader's comments have angered not just the Iraqis, but other countries with substantial Shi'ite populations, including Kuwait and Bahrain.