The session opened on Tuesday against the backdrop of a devastating blast in Baghdad that killed at least 47 people.

  

"The gates of hell are open in Iraq," Musa said while expressing hope that Arab countries can "help Iraq through this crisis, re-establish sovereignty throughout the country and end the American occupation".

  

His comments echoed a declaration by French President Jacques Chirac, one of the most vocal opponents to the US-led war in Iraq, who compared the situation there to a pandora's box.

 

Condemnation

  

During its two-day meeting, the Arab League is due to debate a draft resolution issuing a blanket condemnation of violence against police and civilians in Iraq.

 

Attacks on police and civilians in
Iraq are likely to be condemned

Ministers "condemn all forms of terrorism in Iraq targeting civilians, police, security force personnel and journalists, as well as diplomatic missions and humanitarian or religious groups bringing aid to the Iraqi people", the draft says.
  

Two French journalists and two Italian women aid workers are currently being held captive in Iraq.

  

The draft also calls on the Arab League's 22 members to restore diplomatic relations with Iraq to the level they were before last year's invasion "in order to bolster the political efforts being exerted by the interim Iraqi government".

 

Divisive issue

  

Arab countries could "help Iraq through this crisis, re-establish sovereignty throughout the country and end the American occupation"

Amr Musa,
Arab League Secretary-General

The text urges Arab governments to provide training for Iraqi government personnel, "including members of the police and security forces", and to speed up dispersal of promised aid for the country's reconstruction.

  

Relations with Iraq's US-backed interim government have been a divisive issue in the Arab world, with some capitals leaning towards the Iranian position of disparaging the unelected administration as a creature of the United States.

  

Syria has been specifically accused by US officials of failing to do enough to stem infiltration across its border with Iraq.

  

At the meeting, Arab ministers were also expected to discuss the Middle East conflict amid renewed Israeli threats to expel Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, as well as a UN Security Council demand for an end to foreign influence in Lebanon.