Arab League summit being held in Baghdad boosts Iraq's chances of returning to fold By Lara Jakes Associated Press
BAGHDAD — A summit of Arab leaders, held here for the first time in a generation, is a prime opportunity for Iraq to reassert itself as a political player in the Arab world after years of war, isolation and American occupation.
It also puts Iraq's Shiite leadership under pressure to pick a side in the bitter sectarian politics dividing the region. The top item on the agenda — the crisis in Syria — is seen by Iraq's suspicious Arab brethren as a litmus test of whether Baghdad is with them or with their top rival, Shiite-led Iran.
Sunni-dominated Arab states will push Baghdad to support tough action against Syrian President Bashar Assad. At the same time, Iraq will be wary of angering Iran, which is the top ally of Assad and close to the Shiite politicians leading Iraq's government.
And Iraq must navigate that dilemma while trying to fend off deadly attacks like the ones last week in Baghdad and across the country that killed 46 people and wounded more than 200.
Iraq hopes the three-day Arab League summit, which begins Tuesday, will silence worldwide concerns about the fledgling democracy's stability after years of bloodshed. But the string of attacks raises fears al-Qaeda and other militants will target the summit to embarrass Iraq and prove how shaky its security remains.
"We are trying to walk a thin line but have our national interests at heart," said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "We live in a tough neighborhood."
Zebari, a Kurd, said the summit's timing "could not have been more perfect."
Given the tensions around Syria, Iran and Gulf states, the summit "is the one most important event to take place at such a vital time ... and in the heart of the Middle East, the soul of the Middle East," Zebari said. "It will attract a lot of attention."
Baghdad has not hosted an Arab summit since 1990, only two months before then-ruler Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait. After that, Iraq was all but ejected from the Arab fold, put under years of international sanctions, then mired in the near-civil war that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and fall of Hussein.