The three-day Arab summit, the first to be held in Baghdad in more than two decades, opens Tuesday March 27 after Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates obtained a promise from Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not to invite Iran and receive only a low-ranking Syrian official. Although Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to former summits, Maliki bowed to those conditions because he badly needed to boost Iraq’s credibility in the Arab world and demonstrate its recovery from years of violence.
And so, Iran will be absent and Syria represented by its foreign Minsiter Walid Moallem – not by is president, Bashar Assad.
Gulf rulers also insisted in a low-profile Palestinian delegation. Palestinian leaders are in low standing in most Gulf Arab capitals these days.
Egypt is to send a low-ranking delegation because its acting ruler, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, is unable to leave Cairo in the tense weeks leading up to the first post-Mubarak presidential election in June and the general state of domestic unrest.
Two days before the summit opening, Baghdad and its environs are in heavy security lockdown to ward off terrorist threats: Around 100,000 extra security forces were drafted in to man hundreds checkpoints along with SWAT teams. War-weary Baghdad citizens complain about huge traffic jams and other disruptions.
Large security and military teams armed with advanced anti-terrorist electronic gear have also flown in ahead of the Arab rulers.
At the same time, Western sources familiar with conditions in Iraq are skeptical about these blanket security measures being 100 percent proof against the various terrorist organizations active in Iraq, especially the local al Qaeda affiliate. Its lairs have never been so close to such an important gathering of Arab big wheels in one place.
Even a small attack in their general neighborhood would give any terrorist group unprecedented propaganda exposure and is therefore an opportunity not to be missed. It might help that al Qaeda gets most of its funding from Iraqi Sunni factions supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates. They might well have forked out extra bonuses as incentives for al Qaeda to keep the peace for the three days of the summit, although the maze of violent groups in Baghdad is such that no one can be sure of controlling them.
Conducting the event in the heavily-fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, seat of government and foreign embassies, is no guarantee of safety. Even this enclosed enclave is frequently prey to mortar and rocket fire.
Western security experts also point out that Syrian President Bashar Assad has a beef with most Arab rulers, who denounce his brutality, especially those supporting the anti-regime rebels with arms and cash.
Only three months ago, Prime Minster al-Maliki accused Assad of sending terrorists to Baghdad to blow up explosives-packed cars and shell Iraqi government and foreign embassy buildings.
Iraqi intelligence experts are convinced that the heavy rocket attack on Turkish embassy in Baghdad, January 18, was carried out as warning message from Damascus to Ankara to stop meddling in the Syrian crisis.