Iraq Attends First Arab Summit in 10 Years after Urging Jihad against Israel
Iraq will attend its first Middle East summit for a decade in Cairo on Saturday amid a call to mobilize combatants for a jihad, or holy war, on the Jewish state.
President Saddam Hussein, who has not left the country for security reasons since the 1991 Gulf war, will be represented by his number two, Ezzat Ibrahim, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
Ibrahim, a hard-liner from the Revolutionary Command Council, arrived in Cairo on Thursday, as the press reported that nearly four million people had volunteered to join the jihad.
An Iraqi official offered assurances that Baghdad would not raise the thorny issue of the decade-old UN sanctions that have crippled the country, even though it regularly lashes out against Arab support for the embargo.
"Iraq wants the summit to be devoted to a single question -- Palestine, the Intifada and Jerusalem -- and nothing else," Salem al-Qabissi, chairman of parliament's Arab and international affairs commission, told AFP.
Baghdad would block "the addition of any other question to the summit agenda, which would dissipate efforts and lead to disunity," he said.
The statement echoed that of Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf, who said on arriving in Cairo Wednesday for the preparatory foreign ministers' meeting that the summit should be "devoted heart and soul to supporting the Palestinian struggle."
"We do not need to add other questions to the agenda which would disturb the summit and turn it away from the situation in Palestine," Sahhaf said.
By not bringing up the issue of United Nations sanctions against Baghdad, which have been in force since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which caused a deep divide in Arab ranks, Iraq answered fears voiced notably by the emirate.
Iraq's moderate tone follows a rush of flights in to Baghdad in recent weeks by Arab countries in a challenge to an air embargo that had been maintained alongside the overall sanctions regime for the past 10 years.
Two Gulf monarchies have been among those to send aid flights into Iraq, breaking the nation's isolation and annoying Washington and London, which insist on upholding the air embargo as part of efforts to ensure full and verifiable disarmament of Saddam Hussein's war machine.
"Iraq has, on the one hand, shown its seriousness and, on the other, cut off any attempt by Arab leaders to hijack the summit's central theme," an Arab diplomat told AFP.
Iraq, which presents itself as the champion of Arab and, particularly Palestinian causes, will keep the pressure on other Arab countries by insisting that the Cairo summit "meet the aspirations of the Arab peoples", Qabissi said.
He was alluding to the outpouring of support across the Middle East for the Palestinian uprising in the past three weeks.
"We hope the resolutions of the Arab summit will match the gravity of the situation and the challenge of enemies," he added.
Baghdad was not invited to the last Arab summit in 1996 in the aftermath of the Gulf war – BAGHDAD (AFP)
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