Iraq will host its first Arab League Summit in two decades on March 29 despite ongoing unrest in the Middle East, a foreign ministry official said.
The summit is seen as crucial for Iraq’s reintegration into the Arab world and comes at a critical time in the region following popular protests that have unseated Tunisia and Egypt’s presidents, reports Reuters.
“March 29 is the date set for the Arab League Summit to be held in Baghdad,” Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi told the agency.
He said that he expected the summit to last for two days, although an agenda had not yet been agreed.
Iraq’s main aim at the summit will be to reassure its neighbours. Many Sunni Arab-dominated governments view the rise of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority with suspicion and fear the growing influence of Shi’ite power Iran.
A successful summit would help Iraq to reassert itself as a major Arab nation and could lead to reduced tacit support in some Arab countries for a weakened but still lethal insurgency.
Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, warned the region’s leaders in January to pay attention to economic and political problems, saying Arab citizens’ anger had reached an unprecedented level.
The Arab world has been rattled by recent uprisings which started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, emboldening activists throughout the region to express their anger over economic hardship and authoritarian leaders clinging to power.
Widespread public protests in Tunisia toppled its president of 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, while Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in power on Friday following an 18-day revolt.
For Iraq, the summit is also seen as a major test of the readiness of its army and police to defend the country as U.S. troops prepare to fully withdraw by the end of this year.