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Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq council in big league
- US-appointed minister sits in vacant chair at Cairo meet

Cairo, Sept. 9 (Reuters): Iraq’s US-appointed governing council took a step towards international legitimacy today when its delegate took up Iraq’s vacant seat at an Arab League ministerial meeting.

A landmark decision by Arab foreign ministers to let the delegate join their talks, taken early today after hours of debate, was a diplomatic victory for the council that could help determine if it will be allowed to fill Iraq’s seat in other bodies like the UN and oil cartel Opec.

In a highly symbolic move, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd newly-appointed by the governing council, sat down in Iraq’s chair at the ministerial meeting of the 22-member Cairo-based League.

Speaking to the assembly, Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher said the Iraqi people needed to receive greater powers and the UN had to gain a pivotal role in building Iraq’s political structure.

“This is the meaning which we have confirmed today in our resolution and which we have confirmed in inviting... the representative of the transitional government to sit with us,” Maher said.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said it was “an occasion to welcome the Iraqi delegation in the context of moving towards restoring Iraqi sovereignty and ending the occupation”.

The consensus agreement was a victory for more moderate Arab states over hardliners in the league. Analysts had said some states would try to deny Zebari access, and perhaps only grant him observer status, to avoid legitimising the US-led occupation of Iraq and the un-elected council.

But analysts said more moderate states, including a number of US allies, wanted to have the council represented in the league to ensure that Iraq was embedded in the Arab fold and that Arabs could influence Iraq’s future.

Zebari told the meeting: “The governing council has no intention to abandon the Arab nation and we will cooperate with you in all fields.” The decision to let the council delegate take up Iraq’s seat is only valid until the formation of an elected Iraqi government, and will be reviewed accordingly at each Arab ministerial meeting.

Arab states have previously called the council a step in the right direction, but have been loath to endorse the body fully for fear they would seem to be backing the occupation of Iraq.

Some analysts say Arab states are splitting hairs, and the council’s participation at the League will be seen as de facto recognition, whatever political spin Arab governments put on it.

“This is really a very strong recognition of the governing council,” said Egyptian political analyst Mohamed al Sayid Said. “This step is not very popular in the Arab world,” he said.

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