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Fewer than half of Arab leaders attend Iraq summit
“The Syrian government is required today to listen to the voice of reason and wisdom and stop all kinds of violence,” said the emir of Kuwait.
Iraq had hoped that hosting the summit — its first Arab summit since 1990 — would herald its return to the Arab fold after two decades of isolation. But the absences and the ability of militants to launch attacks despite a massive security operation — a mortar hit an area not far from the summit’s venue as the meeting started — suggest that Iraq may still have some way to go before it could fully return to normalcy and reintegrate into the Arab world.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, also the country’s foreign minister, told Al-Jazeera late Wednesday that his own nation’s low level of representation was a “message” to Iraq’s majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of minority Sunnis.
Majority Shiites have dominated Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. The nation’s once-powerful Sunnis complain that the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is concentrating power in the hands of the Shiites. There is a growing desire by Sunni-majority provinces to win autonomy as a way to escape Shiite domination.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the sectarian violence that began shortly after Saddam’s ouster but peaked in 2006 and 2007. Tension continues to simmers to this day, with occasional attacks by Sunni militants against Shiites and crackdowns on Sunni areas by the Shiite-led security forces.
Relations between Iraq and the Gulf Arab nations have also been tense over criticism by Shiite Iraqi politicians and clerics of Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiite protesters the past year. The demonstrators seek more economic opportunity and an end to what they see as discrimination by the Sunni ruling family.
Mr. al-Maliki on Wednesday met with Bahrain’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the summit. Mr. Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, later told reporters that Bahrain would not be on the summit’s agenda, a decision that appeared to be a concession by the hosts.
The flood of condemnations and denouncements of the Syrian regime in the opening session of the summit could only reinforce their view that it may be too late for diplomacy to bear fruit in Syria.
The Gulf nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been pushing behind the scenes for more assertive action to end the conflict. Privately, they see little benefit in the Arab League’s efforts to reach a peaceful settlement and prefer instead to see a small core of nations banding together to act on their own.
Among the options they are considering are arming the Syrian rebels and creating a safe haven for the opposition along the Turkish-Syrian border to serve as a humanitarian refuge or staging ground for anti-regime forces. Such a step would require help from Turkey — the country best positioned to defend such a safe haven — but so far Ankara has seemed reluctant.
For Gulf nations, removing Mr. Assad would almost certainly break Syria’s alliance with Iran, disrupting the sphere of Tehran’s influence, which extends from Iraq and across Syria to the shores of the Mediterranean. Syria’s Sunni majority makes up the bulk of the uprising. Mr. Assad’s regime is dominated by his own Alawite sect, a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam.
AP reporters Qassim Abdeul-Zahra, Sameer N. Yacoub and Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.
By Donald Lambro
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