Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Critics say Arab League lacks cohesion because of the mixed messages it sends

BRAINSTORM The group of nations is unable to issue solid statements when a crisis emerges and some intellectuals think a security council could guide it

AP , CAIRO

Arabs split bitterly over the war on Iraq agree on one thing: faced with this latest crisis, the Arab League did everything wrong.

Scrutiny of the 22-member league is part of a broader mood of self examination that has accompanied the toppling of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, with democracy-starved Arabs asking how and when reform in their own autocratic states will begin.

String

of failures

For critics of the Arab League, its fractured attempt to avert war on member state Iraq was just one in a long string of failures by a body formed in 1945 as a pan-Arab organization to challenge the emergence of Israel. Some see the formation of the Jewish state in 1948 as the first Arab League failure. The league also has stumbled in fulfilling the pledges in its charter: ensuring the collective defense and political and economic well-being of its members.

Before the Iraq war, a series of Arab League meetings over the crisis degenerated into infighting and name-calling. Its members were divided over whether to defend a fellow Arab nation or back the United States.

Declarations against the war were undermined by some states that helped the US-led invasion force, whether overtly or quietly. In another camp, Saddam's opponents -- mainly Persian Gulf states like Kuwait -- accused the league and its outspoken secretary-general, Amr Moussa, of siding with the longtime Iraqi leader.

Kuwait, invaded by Iraq's army in 1990 and rescued by the United States in the 1991 Gulf War, had special reason to be suspicious of what it saw as attempts to rally backing for Saddam. Iraqi dissidents felt much the same.

"What the Arab League did to the Iraqis was tantamount to encouraging Saddam to continue his atrocities against the Iraqi people," Barham Saleh, a leader of one of the main Iraqi Kurdish groups, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said.

"We should stop lying to our people ... this Arab League is a source of division, not unity," Kuwaiti columnist Saleh al-Shaiji said in an interview.

Kuwait advocated a tough line on Saddam, calling on him to cooperate with the United Nations to avoid war and saying Arabs should announce support for the Iraqi people, not their leader. Other league members went further, suggesting Saddam should step down to avert war.

Moussa had to try to steer a diplomatic course between those views and calls for backing the leadership of a fellow Arab state.

Like many Kuwaitis and Iraqis, al-Shaiji accuses Moussa of sending "the wrong message to Saddam" by not pressuring him to do more to prevent war. Kuwaiti parliament speaker Jassem al-Khorafi urged Moussa to resign, saying he did not respect "the neutrality" of his position.

Calling

it quits

Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, rejected the accusations, saying the "failure of the Arab League is the result of the failure of Arab countries." He has threatened to quit, but vowed not to take such a drastic step while the region was in turmoil.

Libya, a league member that had urged more support for Iraq, announced in the wake of the war that it planned to withdraw from the league, calling the organization impotent.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose nation is the Arab world's most populous, has urged "a new Arab collective order to meet both internal and external challenges." Mubarak did say if he had in mind specific changes for the league, which is headquartered in Cairo.

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