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March 22, 2012
Members of the Arab League are due to meet in Baghdad amidst violence and uncertainty. Expectations are low, with many observers predicting a minimal turnout, with few — if any — heads of state present. The situation is further complicated by a lack of focus on the issues facing the League and internal divisions within Iraq, with the Shiite-based government increasingly at odds with the Sunnis and the Kurds.
According to an Aswat Al-Iraq report on the recent spike in violence: “Security sources declared today that more than 31 persons have been killed and 151 wounded in a series of explosions that hit seven provinces, including Baghdad. The worst explosions occurred in Karbala and Kirkuk provinces….These explosions took place when strict security measures were imposed in all Iraqi provinces in preparations for to the Arab League Summit due in Baghdad at the end of this month, at a time when differences among the political blocs are increasing....Al-Iraqiya Bloc and the Kurdish Alliance are demanding that the National Conference should be held before the Arab League Summit, but it does not seem attainable under the current circumstances.”
Writing for the Kurdish AK News, Raber Aziz comments on the inability of the central government to fend off attacks from militants: “The bombings come only 9 days ahead of the upcoming Arab League Summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad on March 29. Iraq has long been waiting for the Summit to be held in Baghdad seeing it as an important opportunity to regain it esteem among the Arab states. Iraqi officials said earlier this week that some 100,000 Iraqi troops will be on alert to keep security in Baghdad during the days of the Arab Summit….The bombings today send a clear message to the Iraqi authorities that militants are still powerful and can attack whenever and wherever they want.”
Given the recent violence there are some that question the wisdom of holding the summit in Iraq at all. The Khaleej Times editorial is concerned that “[w]hile there is no such thing as failsafe security, the series of blasts in Iraqi cities and towns just before the meeting of the Arab League is a matter of some concern. While leaders who will be attending have been reassured of their safety and security measures will clearly be tightened up, one does have to ask if the sheer presence of so many VVIPs does not make for a provocative target....One can only hope that with such an important agenda the Arab League does feel that its presence in Baghdad is not a pressure the Iraqi forces cannot bear. Certainly, even as one enters the ‘wait and watch’ phase the need to bring the perpetrators to book and ensure that no other attacks occur in the interim is paramount.”
Meanwhile, others have turned their attention to the summit’s agenda. A report by Al Sumaria TV cites Iraq's permanent representative to the Arab League Qais Al Azzawi, according to whom “the Arab Summit agenda…would include the Palestinian cause and the current Arabic situation among its priorities. The Arab League Council also approved to tackle a new item suggested by Iraq about terrorism....Azzawi [also] announced on Tuesday that Iraq is preparing Baghdad draft statement to be issued by the Arab League summit. The statement will tackle solutions and procedures to face obstacles blocking the mutual Arab cooperation; he explained concluding that all Arabic countries, without exception, will participate in Baghdad summit.”
Still, given the internal and external challenges many expect the summit to be a rather low-key and inconsequential event. For example, Al Arabiya argues “Apart from the divisions with the Arab nations, Iraq’s political schism and Iran’s influence in its politics threaten to make the summit ineffective....The Gulf countries had, after all, demanded Iraq’s divisive factions to put their problems aside and work towards creating a solid national partnership government and oppose the one party domination that is Maliki’s State of Law coalition....The secular yet Sunni-backed Iraqiya List headed by Ayad Allawi who is currently in Turkey, is lobbying against the summit. Iraqiya List says that Iraq is not ready to host the Arab Summit in Baghdad as the country’s politicians are divided and won’t represent the country under one voice which in turn will weaken the country’s position.”
Arab News’ Osama Al Sharif is also pessimistic about the outcome: “The convening of the summit, which was not held last year because of the political turbulences that were sweeping the Arab world, should represent a major victory for Iraq’s new rulers....But Baghdad is not a beacon of freedom and democracy. Iraq remains a dangerous place, afflicted by sectarian violence and ethnic divisions. Its political system is barely functional and it is considered by many as a failed state....One thing is certain and that is that the Baghdad summit will be anything but remarkable....What will be interesting though is to see how the summit addresses the phenomenon of the Arab Spring.”
Finally, the Daily Star editorial raises questions about the value of such meetings in the first place, calling the summit “toothless,” asserting: “Conferences and summits should be encouraged provided they are held in safe environments, with an agenda that tackles divisive issues and is able to find solutions that make it off the paper and into implementation within an apparatus that can be entrusted with such a task. The history of these kinds of meetings does not bode well for such an outcome, and all of the latest indicators suggest the Arab League can once again look forward to a summit that is a waste of time and will dash the hopes of those in the region who are desperately looking for direction.”
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