Arab League Plans to Open Office in Iraq
The Arab League will open offices in Iraq for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, part of its efforts to help reconcile the country's Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish communities, the league's chief said Saturday.

The United States has been seeking greater Arab involvement in Iraq, hoping to give legitimacy to the current government. But Arab nations were long reluctant, fearing participation would be seen as condoning the U.S. invasion, which many of them opposed.

Iraq's new Shiite leadership was also suspicious of the Arab League, seeing it as biased toward Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

But last year, the league made efforts to get involved. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa visited Iraq, then the league hosted a reconciliation conference in Cairo in November between Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

Moussa said Saturday that the league would an open an office "in the near future, urgently."

"The situation in Iraq is tragic, Iraq is facing dangerous challenges," he said at a gathering of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo.

The league is planning to sponsor a second reconciliation conference, this one in Baghdad, in June. The league representation office is expected to be opened by the time of the conference and will be headed by the Moroccan diplomat Mukhtar Lamani, Arab diplomats said.

Iraqi leaders are struggling to put together a government after December parliamentary violence amid a surge of violence -- much of it sectarian -- that has killed at least 500 people since last week.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive of the issue, also said Arab governments are discussing requests from the United States and Britain to send troops helping in peace keeping in Iraq. However, opposition to sending troops remains high among Arab governments.

An Arab League envoy, former Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, discussed with U.S. and British envoys in Iraq during a visit to Baghdad last month the idea of several Arab and Islamic countries sending some 1,200 soldiers each, the diplomats said.

No decision is expected by any Arab country before the June conference.

In a separate issue, Moussa underlined that the Arab League "will stand openly against any retreat in the peace process" with Israel -- an apparent attempt to pressure the radical movement Hamas, which is moving to form a new Palestinian government.

Moussa told the foreign ministers' gathering Saturday that a 2003 Arab League peace proposal -- based on a land-for-peace formula -- will remain the "fundamental base" for resolving the Middle East conflict.

A draft final statement by the ministers, obtained by The Associated Press, states a similar position, saying the Palestinian Authority "will remain a full partner in the peace process."

The ministers are also expected to repeat calls to declare the region a nuclear free zone in the face of increasing Western pressure on Iran to halt its uranium enrichment.
Posted by: lotp 2006-03-05