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Among the options they are considering are arming the Syrian rebels and creating a safe haven for the opposition alongside the Turkish-Syrian border to serve as a humanitarian sphere or staging ground for anti-regime forces.

The Sunni-led Gulf countries are hoping that by forcing Mr. Assad’s fall they can pull Sunni-majority Syria out of its alliance with Iran and break the belt of Tehran’s influence, which stretches through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean.

A Sunni-ruled Syria would give the U.S.-allied Gulf Arabs a significant victory in their long-running power struggle with non-Arab, mainly Shiite Iran.

In a sign of their cool ties with Baghdad’s Shiite leadership, most — perhaps all — rulers of the Gulf nations were likely to stay away from the summit and send lower-level officials. Jordan’s King Abdullah, also a Sunni, is not attending, sending his prime minister in his place, the government announced.

Shiite-ruled Iraq is hosting the summit to show that it has emerged from years of turmoil and American occupation. But a massive security operation in Baghdad mirrors fears that Sunni militants could try to disrupt the meetings.

Central Baghdad was virtually deserted Wednesday, with hundreds of heavily armed troops and policemen deployed in full combat gear. The summit venue is a palace once used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and is located inside the “Green Zone,” a highly secure area on the west bank of the Tigris River where the Iraqi prime minister’s office and the U.S. and the British embassies are also located.

AP writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.