A war of words at summit: Iraqi envoy declares Kuwait a `traitor' at Islamic conference

AP
Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar -- Iraq's envoy called a Kuwaiti diplomat a "monkey" and a "traitor" in a rare public display of divisions at an Islamic forum convened yesterday to seek a unified stance against any U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The angry name-calling, broadcast live on satellite television, was the second time in a week Arabs across the region got to watch tensions usually kept behind closed doors erupting between their leaders.

The gathering of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at which the spat took place made little diplomatic progress. The 57-member OIC summit issued a final statement that broke no new ground, welcoming Iraqi cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors and expressing hope it would continue. The leaders rejected any military strike against Iraq.

It was the third high-level gathering in the region in a week aimed at staving off war and came as calls grew stronger for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave office and go into exile.

After Kuwait's foreign minister used his speech to the summit to call on Saddam to step down to avert war, Iraq's Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri described the Kuwaiti minister in his own speech as "swaggering and rude" and accused him of "threatening Iraq's security at the core" by allowing U.S. troops on Kuwaiti soil.

Sheik Mohammed Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, another minister in the Kuwaiti delegation, interrupted al-Douri with comments that were inaudible to viewers at home and to reporters watching via closed-circuit. Officials in the summit chamber later said he called the Iraqi's remarks lies.

Al-Douri responded: "Shut up you monkey. Curse be upon your mustache, you traitor." "Mustache" is a traditional Arabic term for honor.

"This is hypocrisy and falsehood," Sheik Mohammed shot back.

Kuwait's information minister, Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al-Ahmed, leapt up and waved a small Kuwaiti flag that had been on the desk, trying to get the chairman to give the floor to the Kuwaitis.

But the summit's host, Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said: "We are not here for such exchanges," and moved on to the next speaker, from Afghanistan.

Sheik Hamad scolded al-Douri, vice chairman of Saddam's ruling Revolutionary Command Council, telling him: "You started your speech with a verse from the Quran saying, `Thou shalt be united by the word of God."'

The exchange was reminiscent of a squabble Saturday at an Arab League summit convened in Egypt to discuss the Iraq crisis. There, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah objected to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's remarks about Persian Gulf countries' willingness to host American forces.

Gadhafi said Saudi King Fahd had acknowledged to him a willingness to "cooperate with the devil" to protect his country from Iraq during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis. Abdullah called Gadhafi "an agent for colonizers."

More than 200,000 U.S. troops are in the Persian Gulf -- including tens of thousands deployed in Kuwait -- preparing for a possible war on Iraq, which the United States accuses of stockpiling illegal weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad denies it has any banned weapons.

It is not surprising that Iraq and Kuwait are at odds -- Iraq's occupation of Kuwait sparked the 1991 Gulf War -- or that Libya, with its hard-line pan-Arabist philosophy, would clash with pro-U.S. Saudi Arabia. But until the fairly recent innovation of broadcasting at least parts of summits live, Arab leaders could keep their arguments private.

"All information should be available to the viewer and let him or her make the judgment," Yasser Talaat, broadcast editor at the Qatar-based Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, told The Associated Press.

Al-Jazeera was one of several stations that had live broadcasts of the summit sessions -- complete with the less-than-diplomatic exchanges -- in Qatar and Egypt. The Egyptian broadcast feed was abruptly cut after the Gadhafi-Abdullah exchange. Qatari officials did not halt the broadcast of the Iraq-Kuwaiti dispute yesterday.

Helmi Sharawy, director of the Cairo-based Arab-African Research Center, said the public airing of leaders' arguments could mean "summit meetings will have no more credibility in the future."

The United Arab Emirates proposed at the Arab League summit that Saddam step down, an idea favored by Gulf countries and openly advocated by Kuwait. Iran put forward its own Iraqi peace proposal Tuesday that urged the divided Iraqi opposition to reconcile with Saddam and called for U.N. supervised elections.

Neither proposal was formally discussed at yesterday's summit. But shortly before al-Douri's speech, Kuwait's foreign minister, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, said the Iraqi leadership should "think in depth about offering the ultimate sacrifices" -- seeking exile abroad.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, when asked about the Emirates' proposal, said: "That's over."

"Any calls for stepping down should be directed to Mr. Bush, who is causing his country to be hated around the world and is becoming public enemy No. 1," Sabri added, referring to President Bush. Asked about the Iranian proposal, he said: "There is no Iranian proposal."