Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided to skip this weekend's Arab summit amid fighting in the southern oil port of Basra.
Two government officials say Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi will attend the meeting in Syria instead.
Al-Maliki has been in Basra since Monday overseeing a security crackdown against militiamen led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The operation has sparked protests and clashes in Baghdad and several southern cities.
The officials confirming the news are Ali al-Moussawi, head of the National Media Center, and Laith Shobar, an adviser to the vice president. They say the Shiite vice president flew to Damascus on Friday.