- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

CAIRO, March 24 (UPI) — Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo Monday and, as expected, condemned U.S. aggression on Iraq and called on coalition forces to cease their strikes and pull out.

"We call on all forces to withdraw from Iraq and put an end to this attack," said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa at the news conference following the meeting.

The final statement also called on Arab states to "refrain from participating" in any attack. As in the last summit early this month, the wording was vague enough so as not to include a direct attack on countries such as Kuwait and Qatar that are host to substantial U.S. military forces.

As it stopped short of directly criticizing supportive Arab states, so did it avoid any real espousal of Iraq and its leadership.

When asked about the division between the Arab states over this sensitive issue, Moussa said, "This is a question that should be discussed," before shifting the topic back to ending the strikes on Iraq.

For his part, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr al-Thani left the talks early, saying he didn't really see what the meeting could accomplish.

The meeting called for a U.N. Security Council session that would include an unconditional withdrawal of coalition forces and a respecting of Iraq's territorial integrity. There would also be respect for the sovereignty of Iraq's neighbors.

Some commentators, however, say the League is out of touch with the rest of the world.

"It doesn't (look to) where the rest of the world is — they have a certain pattern and they stick with it," said Hisham Kassem, a noted political commentator and the editor of the Cairo Times.

He called Monday's statement "something (that is) completely cut off from reality.

"Can we really expect them to force the U.N. to demand an unconditional withdrawal?" he asked.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Najji Sabri, who attended the talks after a journey by car out of Iraq, said he was pleased with the result and that it was the least the Arab states could do.

Most countries in the region have been experiencing political demonstrations due to the war against Iraq. In Cairo alone, with normally a fairly stable populace, tens of thousands have been demonstrating since the strikes began. On March 21 and 22 there were large-scale popular demonstrations that featured marches on the U.S. Embassy. Riot police dispersed the crowds. The demonstrations also featured a fair degree of anti-regime rhetoric.

While security has been on high alert for the past few days in Cairo, the government still fears further unrest.

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