A meeting of the Arab League called to elect a new secretary-general for the organization nearly degenerated into a brawl between the Iraqi and Kuwaiti delegates, witnesses said.

Applause greeted all the delegates' speeches Wednesday with the sole exception of the address by Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Sahaf to the 21-member organization.Stunned silence filled the league's headquarters when the Iraqi spoke, witnesses said, and even Baghdad's traditional allies such as the North African states and the Palestine Liberation Organization refused to clap.

The Iraqi and Kuwaiti delegates earlier engaged in verbal attacks over the Kuwaiti foreign minister's accusation that Iraq was responsible for the current division in the Arab world. Other delagates had to intervene to prevent them from coming to blows, the witnesses said.

Last August, during an Arab summit in Cairo shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Egyptian newspapers reported that the Iraqi delegate, Taha Yassin Ramadan, threw a plate at then-Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who fainted and needed hospital treatment.

Sahaf accused the Kuwaiti foreign minister of being unreasonable. After the meeting, the Kuwaiti minister left the chamber before the Iraqi representative.