BAGHDAD – Arab leaders who gathered Thursday in Baghdad broke no new ground on Syria or other regional crises, but their summit was still hailed as a success – for returning Iraq to the Arab fold after years of isolating war and occupation.
Ten of the Arab League’s 22 member nations sent a head of state to the summit, most notably Kuwait, whose emir traded ceremonial kisses with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a rapprochement that comes two decades after Saddam Hussein invaded that tiny neighbor in a provocation that sparked the first Persian Gulf War.
Other Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar sent pointedly lower-level delegations, but none of them boycotted the summit, which was organized by Iraq’s ruling Shiite Muslims and Kurds, whom many Sunni leaders have shunned since the U.S.-led invasion swept them into power.
“This is a country that was distanced, overlooked, boycotted and sanctioned. And now it is back,” a triumphant Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told journalists after the summit.
With Syria and other sectarian-tinged conflicts still dividing Arab nations, no one would call the member states’ relations warm. But the very presence of Gulf notables as guests of Shiites in a palace that was once the headquarters of the American occupation was a milestone for Iraq, and an achievement for an Arab League caught in the limbo between the old authoritarian order and a new crop of revolutionaries-turned-leaders.
The lack of disruptive violence also gave a boost to Iraq’s security forces, which have struggled to stop sporadic bombings that still plague the country after the U.S. military’s withdrawal at the end of 2011.