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Iraq’s Arab Supporters To Gather

July 26, 1999

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq’s supporters in the Arab world are expected to flock to Baghdad for a pro-Iraq conference that organizers described Monday as the biggest since the United Nations clamped trade sanctions on the country for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

``The main purpose of the gathering is to voice support of Iraq in its fight against the United States and the embargo,″ said Saad Qassem Hammoudi, a senior member of the ruling Baath party and an organizer of the conference.

Foreign heads of state were unlikely to attend the conference, which runs from Wednesday to Friday. None was present at the last such pro-Iraq conference, held in Baghdad in May 1998.

``Invitations have been sent to a wide spectrum of Arab political parties, trade unions and personalities and the response is overwhelming,″ Hammoudi told The Associated Press.

Palestinian factions, both hard-liners and backers of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group, will attend the conference, Hammoudi said. So will scores of representatives of political parties from Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen and North African Arab countries.

Hammoudi said he also expects a low-key presence from Syria _ which is ruled by a rival faction of the Arab Baath Socialist Party _ and the Arab Gulf states.

Iraq’s government, still shunned by several Arab countries, says it has the backing of the Arab people and warns that Arab rulers should not underestimate the popular support it enjoys.

Hammoudi cited the protests that swept several Arab countries in support of Iraq in December last year when the United States and Britain launched airstrikes to punish Iraq for allegedly failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

At the last conference in 1998, a brawl broke out between anti- and pro-Arafat Palestinian delegates when one delegate praised the peace process with Israel.

Hammoudi said Iraq does not intend to interfere in the proceedings of the conference and will not censor speeches to be delivered by opposing groups.

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