Premier calls Arab summit 'turning point' for Iraq

By SAMEER N. YACOUB | Associated Press Fri, Mar 30, 2012

Premier calls Arab summit 'turning point' for Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq's prime minister on Friday praised this week's Arab League summit in Baghdad as a turning point in the emerging relationship between Iraq and the Arab world.

In a televised speech, Nouri al-Maliki said that his government lived up to the technical, political and organizational challenges to hold the Arab summit, despite doubts that the war-battered country would be able to provide security and logistics for the 21 visiting delegations.

"The summit results, in which Iraq and Arab countries have resumed relations, represents a new turning point in the relations among Arab countries," he said.

Only half of the heads of states of Arab League members attended the summit, reflecting deep divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslim nations. Most Sunni leaders stayed away from Baghdad, ruled now by al-Maliki's Shiite-led coalition government.

Al-Maliki offered his apologies to Baghdad residents for the strict security lockdown that kept people from leaving their neighborhoods. Also, cellular phone service was shut down across Baghdad for two days to keep insurgents from launching rockets with cell phone triggers.

Al-Maliki said the tough measures "were necessary to secure Baghdad during the summit." Insurgents threatened violence during the gathering, but no major attacks took place.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric also praised the summit and called for further action to reintegrate his country into the world community, his spokesman said.

Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said lifting old U.N. sanctions is essential for the country to gain full sovereignty. He spoke during a Friday sermon in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Through hosting the summit, Iraqi officials were seeking the support of Arab countries, especially Kuwait, to lift all the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1990 invasion of the tiny Gulf state by Iraq's deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Commenting on the summit in Baghdad, al-Safi said the ayatollah is pleased Iraq is opening up to the Arab world.