Monday, April 02, 2012

Spotlight on Baghdad: Iraq and the Arab League Summit

The 23rd Annually Arab League Summit was held in Baghdad from the 27-29th March.  It was the first time Iraq has hosted an Arab League summit since 1990, before the start of the Gulf War.  Furthermore it was the first high profile event staged by the country since the withdrawal of US armed force in December 2011.  The event gave Prime Minister Nouri Maliki a chance to show that his Iraq can play a part on the world stage without an American crutch.

The cost of summit was reported to be over $500 million, with the vast sum that could have been spent on renovating Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, refurbishing hotels, planting flowers and resurfacing roads, used by the delegations.  Most noticeable for ordinary Iraqi’s was the ramped up security, who imposed tight curfews, road blocks and security check points, much to the frustration of local traders who’s business were disrupted.  Yet despite the precautions there was a suicide attack in Baghdad on 27th March that left one person dead and four injured. Two days later three rockets were fired towards the Green Zone - luckily no one was hurt.

Many Iraqi’s were less than impressed by the summit; they see Maliki’s investment as a purely superficial one.  The people of the Baghdad would be far happier if their government could repair the power grid and other basic amenities rather than host delegations from the neighbour states. The Iraqi capital still has bad roads, long power-cuts and a shaky water and sewage system.

Yet despite the misgivings of his electorate, Maliki saw the chance to host the summit as an opportunity to reintegrate his country in the fold with the rest of Arab league.  He has moved away from Iran and closer to rival Arab heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Speaking in a Saudi newspaper, he called for greater Arab unity and countered misgivings about Iraq’s close ties to Iran.  Iraq also agreed to pay $400 million to Egyptian workers, money owed to them from before the first Gulf War.  In contrast Iran was not invited to send a delegation to the summit.

The main focus of the summit was of course the violence in Syria.   The Arab world, despite broadly supporting Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan, remains divided on the issue.  Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for prompt, tough action against Bashar al Assad, and before the summit were openly in favour of arming the Free Syrian Army. 

In contrast Iraq and Lebanon, anxious about the future stability of Syria if Assad was to fail, favour a negotiated solution. Maliki used the Baghdad summit to urge caution; he warned of the dangers of a "proxy war" if foreign powers were to arm the different factions within Syria.  He made it clear Iraq was not in favour of outside intervention in Syria

As the delegates departed on the 29th of March, they all acknowledged that it would it take time to resolve the situation in Syria.  Yet despite Assad accepting Annan’s plan his oppression continues - the UN estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed.

1 comment:

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