The two-day summit starts on 28 March in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League's secretary-general, said on Saturday a resolution stressing the necessity "of not marginalising the Arab role in drawing the future of Iraq under any condition," would be discussed by the leaders,

"I don't think any dialogue taking place behind the Iraqis' and Arabs' backs can be fruitful," Moussa added, hinting at pending direct talks between Iran and the United States over Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Friday she was "quite certain" that direct talks would take place with Iran on the turmoil in Iraq, but did not say exactly when.

Abul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, separately stressed that Arabs should have a greater role in Iraq. "There is a US-Iranian agreement to have dialogue over Iraq. There should be an Arab role," in the efforts to end Iraq's crisis. 

Notable absentees

The 18th regular Arab summit, which has the conflict in Iraq and the Palestinian situation under a Hamas-led government high on its agenda, will be shunned by a number of Arab leaders.

Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, will not take part in the summit and will be represented by Ahmed Nazif, the prime minister, a source in Egypt's delegation told AFP.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, and Oman's Sultan Qaboos will also not attend the meeting, an Arab League official said on Friday.

Hamas upset

Meanwhile, in Ram Allah Hamas on Saturday voiced regret at being kept away from the  summit even though it is poised to form the Palestinian government.  

Abbas declined Hamas's request
to join him for the summit

"Hamas sent Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa a letter expressing regret at being kept away from the summit," Hamas official Izzat al-Rasheq said on the movement's website.

 

It blamed US-led pressure on the 22-member pan-Arab grouping for the decision.

  

Omar Abdel Razeq, the finance minister-designate, said the  government-in-waiting had proposed to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, that it join his delegation but that he had replied it was better to wait until it had been formally sworn in.

  

Instead Abbas has taken with him outgoing foreign minister  Nasser al-Qidwa of his own Fatah movement, which was trounced by Hamas in the January parliamentary elections.