Monday, March 26, 2012

Iraq Prepares For The Arab League Summit

The Iraqi government is hoping to pull off a foreign policy coup on March 29, 2012, when diplomats and leaders gather in Baghdad for the Arab League Summit. Iraq has had difficult relations with many of its neighbors since 2003, especially with countries like Saudi Arabia, which considers the Shiite-led government as being pro-Iranian. Kuwait is also still bitter after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been working overtime to get these countries to change their minds, so that they attend the meeting. In February, he sent a delegation to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and in March he went to Kuwait. The premier returned with a deal with Kuwait over compensation for airplanes that were stolen or damaged by Saddam. Before that in February, Kuwait said it would reopen its embassy. The prime minister also worked out a prisoner exchange with the Saudis, greater cooperation on security, and they appointed a non-resident ambassador, the first in twenty-two years. Baghdad will pay Egyptians that worked in Iraq in past decades, but were never paid, as well. The government has also spent $400 million to refurbish sections of the capital where the conference will be held. Extra security has also been deployed to stave off any potential terrorist attacks, which groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq have threatened to carry out

This is quite a turnaround for Iraq. The meeting was originally scheduled for March 2011, but the Arab Spring and Iraq’s support for the protesters in Bahrain, which soured the opinion of the Gulf Cooperation Council, led to it being pushed back to March 2012. Now that the region is relatively stable outside of Syria, Iraq can return to the Arab stage. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari already became the head of the Arab League in early 2011. Since 2003, many in North Africa and the Middle East have shunned Iraq, because they opposed the U.S. invasion, and the ascent of Shiites to power. Now the country can at the minimum have a symbolic victory if not a real one when it hosts the Arab League. This will be a major step for the country to restore its standing and relations in the region. It is just the latest sign of the return of normality to Iraq.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby (left) and Iraq's Foreign Minister Zebari in preliminary meetings in Baghdad for the summit, Mar. 25, 2012 (AP)
Gardens and poster are being put up around the capital (AP)
Security is also tight (AP)
This is the conference room where the meeting will take place (AP)
The government is also putting on public events like this race through the capital before the summit (Reuters)


Arango, Tim, “Arab League Again Delays Baghdad Summit Meeting,” New York Times, 4/20/11
- “Ready or Not, Iraq Ascends to Take Helm of Arab Bloc,” New York Times, 3/23/11

Associated Press, “As Iraq hosts summit, Syria crisis puts it under pressure to choose between Iran, Arab ties,” 3/24/12
- “Bahrain’s foreign minister says Gulf states ask Arab League to cancel Iraq summit,” 4/13/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Saudi Arabia appoints first Iraq envoy in 22 years,” 2/21/12

Blair, Edmund and Awad, Marwa, “UPDATE 1-Arab League delays summit by year to March 2012,” Reuters, 5/5/11

Habib, Mustafa, “’charm offensive’ claims another victim: Iraq makes friends with kuwait,” Niqash, 3/21/12

Healy, Jack, “Saudis Pick First Envoy to Baghdad in 20 Years,” New York Times, 2/21/12

Ibrahim, Haider, “Saudi Arabia to open pilgrimage visa office and consulate,” AK News, 2/27/12

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 34,” 3/14/12

Tawfeeq, Mohammed, “Iraq bombings meant to target summit security, militant group says,” CNN, 3/21/12

Waleed, Khaled, “the thaw begins: icy relationship between saudi arabia and iraq warming up,” Niqash, 2/29/12

Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Kuwaiti embassy reopens amid hope and controversy,” AK News, 2/13/12

Al-Yousef, Mortadha, “Iraq starts “new stage “of security cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” AK News, 2/29/12

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