Arab leaders summit for Baghdad

2011-02-14 21:12

Cairo - Arab leaders on Monday called an annual summit for March 29 after popular uprisings transformed the political landscape of the volatile but long autocratic region.

Heads of state are to meet in the Iraqi capital Baghdad for the first time since the US-led of invasion of 2003, in defiance of threats by Islamist insurgents to attack anyone taking part.

"The Arab League summit will be held in Baghdad on March 29," Iraq's ambassador to the Arab League, Qais al-Azzawi, told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the 22-member bloc's permanent representatives in Cairo.

"The conditions are ready for holding the conference on that day. We trust that this will be one of the most successful Arab summits," said Ali Musawi, spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Ahead of the summit, Arab foreign ministers are to meet on March 3 in Cairo, headquarters of the Arab League and the Arab world's most populous nation, the bloc's deputy secretary general, Ahmed Ben Helli, said.

They will also meet in Baghdad on March 28 in Baghdad, after permanent representatives to the Arab League meet in Cairo over the two previous days, Azzawi said.

The summit will be the first since two Arab presidents were toppled in popular uprisings amid warnings by the 22-nation bloc's chief, Amr Mussa, of "unprecedented anger" on the Arab street.

Impious government

Tunisian protests sparked by the self-immolation of a vegetable seller forced strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14 after 23 years in power.

Inspired by events in Tunisia, pro-democracy groups launched a call for protests in Egypt and their campaign ended the three-decade rule of president Hosni Mubarak.

Last month, insurgents gunned down two Iraqi foreign ministry officials, after the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam posted threats against the summit in a statement on a jihadist website.

"The meeting of these tyrants in Baghdad forms part of American plans to normalise relations with the occupation government" in Iraq, it read.

"Everyone must know Iraq is under the occupation of the crusaders and that only the non-believers can legitimise the impious government."

Abduljabbar Abdullah Mukhtar and Jamal Sattar Hussein were shot dead by gunmen using silenced pistols on January 26, two days after the murder of Duraid Ismail, an employee of the national security ministry.

Egypt's new military rulers have vowed to pave the way for a free democratic society, which if implemented, could jolt the region whose people have long suffered from political repression, poor human rights and economic hardships.

Unprecedented anger

Arab League chief Amr Mussa had warned leaders who met in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for an economic summit of "unprecedented anger" on the Arab street.

"The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession," he said. "The political problems, the majority of which have not been fixed have driven the Arab citizen to a state of unprecedented anger and frustration."

Mussa, whose term as secretary general runs out in two months, is expected to hand in his resignation at the Baghdad summit. He has not ruled out seeking political position in his Egyptian homeland since the protests erupted against Mubarak's rule.

Iraq has not hosted an Arab League summit since 1978, although an extraordinary meeting of leaders took place there in 1990.