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Arab Group: Council must meet, condemn Iraq war

©Associated Press

March 25, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- Arab nations called Monday for an emergency Security Council meeting to demand an end to the U.S.-led war against Iraq and the withdrawal of all invading forces.

The U.N.'s Arab Group was following up on a decision taken by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo earlier Monday calling on the United States and Britain to immediately withdraw from Iraq without condition. Kuwait was the lone dissenter in that vote in the 22-member Arab League.

"We will ask that the invasion stop, that the invading forces will be withdrawn, and that Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence will be preserved," said Arab League Ambassador Yahya Mahmassani.

"It's vital, it's important that the meeting of the Security Council takes place as soon as possible."

By coincidence, Iraq holds the rotating chairmanship of the Arab Group this month.

Immediately after the Arab Group finished its closed-door session, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri delivered a letter to Guinea's Mamady Traore, the current Security Council president, asking for a meeting.

"We want ... to stop the aggression against Iraq and the Iraqi people, and to withdraw the foreign troops," said Syria's U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe, whose country is the only Arab nation on the Security Council.

In order for the council to meet, only one of the 15 members has to ask for a session. But with the council still bitterly divided over the war, there was no chance that a resolution demanding an end to the fighting would ever be passed because it would be vetoed by the United States and Britain.

Washington and London tried unsuccessfully to get the council to support the war but dropped a resolution last week setting an ultimatum for Saddam Hussein in the face of a veto threat by France and opposition from Russia, China and Germany.

Mahmassani said that if Arab nations failed to get a resolution through the Security Council, "then we can move to the General Assembly."

No nation has veto power in the 191-member General Assembly, but its resolutions are not legally binding -- unlike those in the Security Council. To get a special session of the General Assembly, supporters have to present a petition with 97 signatures.

Kuwait's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Abulhasan said his government did not object to the Arab Group's call for the meeting.

When the Arab League passed its resolution Monday calling for an end to the Iraq war, Kuwait was the lone dissenter because the text omitted any reference to the 10 Iraqi missiles that have landed on its soil since the conflict began Thursday.

At that meeting, the Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, declared, "The Arab masses expect their governments to take a firm, historic position against aggression."

Not long before, the Qatari foreign minister, Hamad Bin Jassem al-Thani, walked out of the meeting to fly home.

Al-Thani dismissed the Arab League's persistent efforts to find common ground in the Iraqi crisis as a waste of time.

"I don't think these meetings will stop the war," al-Thani said, "and I don't think these meetings will lead to the result the Arab street expects."

Qatar, which often takes a maverick position in Arab politics, is host to the coalition's Central Command for the attack on Iraq.

-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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