Arab foreign ministers urge end to war, but rifts remain


CAIRO, Egypt - With images of bloodied Iraqi civilians and a defiant Saddam Hussein blanketing television screens across the Middle East, Arab foreign ministers called yesterday for an immediate end to the attack on Iraq but agreed on little else to placate the growing numbers of protesters in their streets.

The Arab League meeting here, the first since the war began, put the tensions and fears of the region on display, featuring short-tempered exchanges and barely disguised rudeness as Iraqi delegates and their supporters accused other members of acting against the wishes of their people.

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

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," he 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.

The Arab League meeting called for a withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. As was decided at a previous league meeting, the ministers also said no Arab state should participate in the attack on Iraq. The deep divisions in the 22-member organization can hardly be bridged by discussion or resolutions.

Five member nations in the Persian Gulf are providing facilities, bases, staging areas and support for the U.S. and British forces attacking Iraq. More radical states, principally Syria, are demanding the expulsion of foreign troops from the region.

Jordan, which had been importing Iraqi oil at bargain prices for years, shattered relations Sunday by expelling three Iraqi diplomats for what it called internal security reasons, prompting Iraq's foreign minister to scornfully accuse Jordan of following U.S. orders.

Other than urging immediate intervention by the United Nations and an end to the attacks, the Arab leaders have taken no steps to spoil relations with the United States.

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