The Arab League convened in Iraq this Tuesday for its first summit hosted by Baghdad since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who views the summit as a preliminary step to restoring regional leadership, has deemed the meeting “a recognition of the new Iraq that has emerged since 2003.”
Member state leaders, excluding Syria’s President Bashar al-Asad whose Arab League membership was suspended last November, will meet until Thursday under heavy security due to escalating clashes between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite populations. The rising sectarian conflict that left 50 dead last week after bombings and shootings across eight Iraqi cities will not be on the summit’s agenda.
The empty seat of the Syrian delegate at the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. (Photo: Ali Haider/AP)
At last year’s gathering the Arab League discussed Tunisia’s unprecedented public revolt and successful ousting of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. At the time, the Arab League Secretary General warned that “The Tunisian revolution is not far from us” because the “Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession.” Still broken, the Arab League meets again to discuss the Asad regime’s government crackdown in Syria, which according to the United Nations is systematically detaining and torturing children and has thus far claimed some 9,000 lives.
Still, the Arab leaders who were instrumental in overthrowing Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi by authorizing NATO’s military intervention have done little to help the Syrian people in a similar manner and fear the persistence of the Asad regime. They largely oppose military intervention and arming opposition forces, and continue to draft a resolution that will only be worth the paper it is written on. Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi has already said that “Syria will not cooperate with any Arab League initiative at any level.”
In the end, the summit meeting will likely be a premature attempt to showcase Iraq’s independence in light of the U.S. military’s recent departure, rather than symbolic of a forward-moving Arab League.