Monday, 26 March 2012

Syria tops Arab agenda at Iraq summit


BAGHDAD: After decades at the centre of the Arab world, Syria now sits in the dock with regional leaders meeting in Baghdad this week over how to end Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on an anti-regime uprising.
But wide disparities among Arab chiefs' positions may hamper any hope of an aggressive resolution from the meeting, the first to be held in Iraq in more than 20 years and taking place under heavy security after deadly bombings just a week ago.
Crucially, the Arab League will have to reconcile a proposal by Gulf countries to arm opposition groups against Assad, and states like Iraq who are calling instead for a political resolution to the year-long crackdown that monitors say has left more than 9,000 dead.
"If you are talking about Syria itself, it is not an easy issue," Iraqi Deputy National Security Adviser Safa Hussein told.
"There is a division internationally and there is a division within the Arab world. I don't think we should expect miracles to happen in the summit, but I would say there would be an opportunity to bring Arab opinions closer."
Iraqi authorities have insisted that the summit will focus on structural reform of the Arab League in an effort to make the organisation more active, but Syria remains in the limelight, rocked by ongoing protests and deadly clashes, US and European sanctions and a United Nations human rights probe.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Sunday that Kofi Annan represented the last chance for avoiding a civil war in Syria and offered the UN-Arab League envoy Moscow's full support.
Medvedev's stark message to Moscow's traditional ally came only hours after US President Barack Obama announced plans to send "non-lethal" aid to the Syrian rebels and new waves of violence swept the battle-scarred country.
Baghdad has played down the possibility of a new resolution addressing the situation in Syria, while Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi told pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat it was unlikely that the meeting in Iraq would call for the Syrian leader to step down.
The summit also marks a re-emergence of Iraq, hosting its first Arab League meeting since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which triggered UN sanctions and was eventually followed by the 2003 US-led invasion.
Iraq has called in some 4,000 extra policemen and soldiers to provide security and spent an estimated $500 million to refurbish major hotels and summit venues. (AFP

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