Iraq Hopes Arab Summit Will Boost Its Role

Baghdad was due to host the event last year, but unrest in several Arab League member states, combined with security concerns in Iraq itself, led to its postponement.

“If Iraq had held the summit last year, most Arab leaders would not have attended,” Osama Murtadha, a professor of political science in Baghdad, said. “Those hostile to Iraq would have stayed away on the pretext that it was an occupied country, and those friendly towards Iraq would also have been unable to attend because they would have faced harsh public criticism for attending a meeting in an occupied country. Simply put, Arabs would have said, ‘How can we discuss our affairs in a country run by foreigners?’”

Iraq has not hosted an Arab League summit since May 1990, months before its then leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, an act which alienated the country from many other Arab states.

“This meeting will help us activate our relations with the Arab countries,” Mosawi said, adding, “There has been a disconnect stemming from Saddam Hussein’s poor policies, starting with his invasion of Kuwait.”

After Saddam was toppled in the United States-led invasion of 2003, Iraqis felt further isolated because many other Arab states saw them as being under occupation. With the American troop withdrawal in December 2011, Iraq is hoping to reposition itself as a leading player in the region.

Ahead of the summit, Baghdad has stepped up diplomatic efforts with other states.

The government paid four billion US dollars in compensation to Kuwait last year, and says it is committed to solving other controversial issues like the demarcation of borders with its southern neighbour. It also recently agreed to pay some 408 million dollars to around 640,000 Egyptians who fled Iraq following the first Gulf war.

The warming of relations with Saudi Arabia have been marked by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s declared willingness to visit the country, and the appointment of the Saudi envoy to Jordan to serve as non-resident ambassador to Baghdad. It is the first time there has been Saudi representation in Iraq for more than two decades.

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