Iraq sees Arab summit as chance to regain stature

April 1, 2012

With the Arab summit four days away, Iraq hopes that the first high-level international gathering in more than one decade will be a golden opportunity to regain a reputation heavily damaged by wars, sectarian conflicts and isolation in the Arab world.

However, Iraqis are conscious that the excitement that has been building up and the anticipated success of the summit will be largely determined by the level of representation of the member states.

“Nine Arab heads of state have confirmed their participation in the Arab League summit in Baghdad,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said Saturday. “More presidents and kings continue to say they will come to Baghdad. I think until now nine have confirmed their attendance. We expect the number to increase,” he said.

Iraqi officials last month said that the average number of leaders who attend summits is between eight and 12.

In Amman, King Abdullah II has reportedly delegated his Prime Minister Aun Al Khasawna to represent Jordan at the summit in Baghdad on March 29.

Citing high-profile political sources it did not name, Iraqi daily Azzaman said that Al Khasawna would arrive in Baghdad on Thursday.

The daily said that King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud would not attend the summit and that Riyadh did not decide on the level of the Saudi Arabian representation.

In Tunis, conflicting reports have blurred the level of the Tunisian presence at the summit, the first since a popular uprising ousted Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali in January 2011.

A presidential source said that President Munsif Marzouki would represent the country, but Rafik Abdul Salam, the foreign minister, said that no decision has been made about it.

In neighbouring Algeria, the initial announcement that President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika would represent his country has not been confirmed or changed.

The Iraqi daily said that Lebanese President Michel Sulaiman is under pressure to take part in the summit, but is determined to be in Baghdad on Thursday.

The presence of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was confirmed on Sunday in an Iraqi presidential statement.

“President Omar Al Bashir confirmed over a telephone conversation with President Jalal Talabani on Saturday evening that he would personally attend the summit,” the statement said.

The Iraqi foreign ministry last week dismissed as “inaccurate and lacking credibility” reports about a request from the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) to arrest President Omar Al Bashir if he attends the summit.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have not yet announced the level of their representation at the summit although reports claim that for some of them, it would be at the level of ministers.

Syria will not be present at the summit after its membership was suspended by the Arab league in November. However, the situation in Damascus will be one of the major issues to be taken up at the annual gathering of Arab states.

Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, the host country, will chair the summit, while Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki will head the Iraqi delegation.

Iraq’s non-Arab neighbours, Turkey and Iran, have not been invited to the summit amid reports that Arab capitals had put pressure on Baghdad not to extend an invitation to Tehran. However, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union have been invited to attend the summit.

But as speculations mount about the names of the heads of delegations, Baghdad has insisted that it was fully ready for the summit.

Iraqi media reports said that the host nation has spent about $400 million and deployed 100,000 security staff in preparation for the summit, including security and infrastructure.

However, Baghdad Operations Command on Sunday ruled out a curfew ahead of the summit, Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) reported.

“There is no intention at present to close highways or streets in Baghdad beyond those already closed within the security measures, namely Al Zaitoun, Al Saadoun, and Abi Nawwas streets,” Lt. General Hasan Salman Al Baidhani said.

Main streets like Karradat Mariam near the Green Zone and Al Nidhal along Al Saadoun had been closed, while checkpoints had been set up at bridges and streets that connect the neighbourhoods of the Iraqi capital.

“A decision on imposing a curfew depends on the security status and developments on the ground,” Al Baidhani said. “For the time being, we have no indications or cause for a curfew for the duration of the summit,” he said, quoted by Kuna.

The official said that the Iraqi skies would remain open, but would be on March 29 reserved exclusively to the planes carrying the delegations to the summit.

Summit agenda

According to Labid Abbawi, Iraq’s deputy foreign minister, the proceedings of the summit are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

“The first session will include ministers of finance and economy and will be presided over by the Iraqi trade minister,” he told London-based Al Hayat daily. “On the second day, Arab foreign ministers will hold a meeting presided over by the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. Then the final session will be held on the last day and it will include Arab leaders to endorse the final statement,” he said.

The summit agenda includes 10 points that include a report by the Arab League Secretary General about common Arab action and the report to develop the League, the Palestinian issue and Arab-Israeli conflict, developments in Syria and Yemen and ways for the Arab states to improve it and the situation in Somalia.

The Arab leaders will also address making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, tackling international terrorism, the bylaws of the permanent Arab parliament, the draft reports by the social and economic preparatory committee and the venue and date for the 24th Arab summit next year.

The summit will also review an Iraqi proposal to address the Syrian crisis and ways to avoid the spectre of a civil war in Syria.

The summit, the 23rd since the Arab League was established in March 1945, will be the third to be held in Baghdad after 1978 and 1990, almost three months before Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait from which they were ejected in February 1991.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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