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Arab League Split on Iraq Crisis Message - 2003-02-17

Much like the rest of the world, the Arab League is divided on the issue of Iraq. After two days of meetings in Cairo, the foreign ministers of the Arab League failed to reach a decision on whether to hold an emergency session to discuss the Iraqi crisis.

For the Arab League's foreign ministers, their two day meeting, which ended late Sunday night, boiled down to the issue of whether Baghdad or Washington should bear greater responsibility for averting war.

Syria wanted an emergency summit of the Arab League to send a message to Washington stating the Arab world's opposition to war in Iraq and American policies throughout the region.

Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia said Baghdad should be told to more fully comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.

At the end of two days of talks, the ministers failed to resolve the issue of whether to hold an emergency summit but did endorse a statement urging Iraq to more fully comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. They also reaffirmed that no Arab state should become involved in a military strike against Iraq. This reaffirmation came even though a handful of Arab states are hosting more than 100-thousand U.S. troops in bases around Iraq.

Political analyst Mohammad Kamal, who teaches political science at Cairo University, says the Arab League's failure to reach a consensus show how divided the group is.

"You have some of the Gulf countries, probably, in favor of removing Saddam Hussein's regime using military force," said Mr. Kamal. "On the other hand, you have other countries like Syria and probably Libya who are totally against that. And you have countries who are in between, so it's difficult to come up with a common stand with regard to the Iraqi issue."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said further discussions would be held aimed at holding an emergency summit. But even if one is held, most political analysts in the region believe such a meeting would be able to do little, if anything, to avert war.

Hassan Nafae is head of the political science department at Cairo University. He says the Arab League has lost its ability to affect international policies. "The Arab League has, most of the time, been an impotent organization," said Mr. Nafae. "The Arab system is weak. There is no real effective leadership since the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. There were some attempts to revive it but I think they didn't succeed very much."

Mr. Nafae said there was some hope, earlier in the current Iraqi crisis, that it might help re-activate the Arab League's political voice, but he said its failure to agree to hold an emergency summit shows that it remains unable to speak with one voice.