Syria Dominates Arab League Summit In Baghdad
March 29, 2012
by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq
Baghdad is hosting its first Arab League summit in two decades, with the focus on the Syrian crisis.
Ten Arab heads of state were attending, including Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the first Kuwaiti head of state to visit Iraq since Iraq's 1990 invasion.
Most other leaders from the Arab League's 22 member states stayed away due to security concerns. Syria is banned from Arab League meetings because of its deadly crackdown on dissent.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the summit it was time for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to begin implementing a proposed UN-Arab League cease-fire agreement.
"It is essential that President Assad put those commitments into immediate effect," Ban said. "The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation. There is no time to waste."
Damascus says it has accepted the cease-fire proposal by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. But government troops are continuing offensive operations against opposition-held areas across the country.
The Arab League summit is expected to result in a renewed call for a cease-fire in Syria between government and opposition forces.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the Arab League had dropped earlier calls for Assad to step aside and allow his deputy to organize talks with opposition factions.
Zebari told reporters that it was "up to the people of Syria to decide, to choose, to elect their leaders. It is not up to the Arab League or to anybody else."
The Syrian regime has already said it will ignore any statement coming out of the summit as irrelevant.
Addressing The Arab Spring
Syria is not the only item on the summit agenda.
Iraq's ambassador to the Czech Republic, Hussein Maala, told RFE/RL that another subject was how to reform the Arab League in wake of the Arab Spring democracy protests across the Middle East.
"Arab cooperation and the work of the Arab League will certainly be affected by the Arab revolutions and the establishment of new, real democratic regimes," Maala said.
"The Arab League has to go further and improve its work mechanisms to serve the economy and social life of the people."
Baghdad, which will take the rotating leadership of the Arab League following the summit, hopes to now return to a key position in the Arab world after years of isolation.
Iraq was sanctioned by the international community during the former regime of Saddam Hussein, then came close to civil war following the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam's rule in 2003.
However, tensions between some Arab states and Iraq are visible at the summit.
Qatar says it has sent only a low level representative to the summit as part of a protest over what it says is the marginalization of minority Sunnis in Iraq by the Shi'ite-dominated government.
Qatar is one of six Sunni-led Persian Gulf Arab nations whose relations with Iraq are strained over the Iraqi government's close ties with neighboring Shi'ite-led Iran.
As the summit got under way in Baghdad's Green Zone, insurgents fired a mortar round into the neighborhood of the heavily fortified area.
The blast came despite heavy security in the capital, where 100,000 security forces are on alert.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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