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Arab League team readies for Iraqi reconciliation conference

CAIRO -- An Arab League delegation will go to Iraq later this week to prepare for a pan-Iraqi reconciliation conference, the first of its kind since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, diplomats said yesterday.

Secretary-General Amr Moussa warned the delegates who will begin a five-day visit to Iraq Saturday against getting involved in any sectarian disputes and told them to focus on the main purpose of the visit, an Arab League diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn't permitted to speak to the press.

''Moussa warned the delegation from irritating any Iraqi group or taking the side of any of them, to listen more than to speak, not to appear in any hot spots and to keep their movements under great secrecy," the diplomat said.

The delegation, led by Ahmed bin Heli, assistant secretary-general for political affairs, is making the trip after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Monday in Saudi Arabia suggested the League should help prepare for a national reconciliation conference.

Moussa is expected to go to Iraq this month, for the first time since the fall of Hussein's regime in April 2003, to chair the conference.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the conference should lead to a consensus on the proposed Iraqi constitution and ensure the participation of all Iraqis in the political process.

It was uncertain, however, whether such a gathering could be organized before Iraqis vote on the draft constitution in a referendum on Oct. 15.

Previous efforts to hold a pan-Iraqi conference have faltered as the Shi'ites and Kurds have refused to accept the participation of Sunni insurgents.

Members of the Arab League delegation expressed concern over the security situation in Iraq.

''It is a suicide mission," a member of the delegation said, asking not to be identified.

The Arab League diplomat said that the league has set up a $200,000 insurance policy for each member of the delegation.

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