Maliki Brings the Arab League to Town

The Baghdad Gamble

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. (Mohammed Ameen / Courtesy Reuters)

Last Tuesday, a week before the scheduled Arab League summit in Baghdad, a wave of terror attacks killed more than 50 people across central Iraq. Security forces had been put on high alert in the run-up to the summit, yet terrorists were still able to strike key cities such as Baghdad, Karbala, and Kirkuk with impunity. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility, a deliberate attempt to derail the Arab League summit and undermine the fledgling Iraqi government.

Successfully bringing the Arab League together in Baghdad -- the first such gathering in the Iraqi capital since 1990 and only the second in the country's history -- would signal the return of a modicum of normalcy to a state still emerging from years of intervention and civil war. Foremost on the agenda will be Syria (how to deal with Assad's continued violent crackdown) and Yemen (where the Arab League has been involved in the leadership transition now under way). Also, that the summit will not likely include Iraq as a separate agenda item is a milestone in itself. The reason is very simple: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shia Islamist alliance argue that more pressing crises are to be found elsewhere in the Arab world. Considering the volatile last decade in Iraq, that is saying a lot.

Yet whatever progress has been made, the summit will take place in a capital shaken by political convulsions. In recent months, Iraqi politics have been upended by the politically motivated arrest warrant issued by the Iraqi judiciary for Tareq al-Hashemi, a member of the increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiya political party and an enemy of Maliki. At first, the move sparked fears of renewed civil war, even partition. However, Maliki has won the support of some Sunni politicians and tribal forces who agree with him that splitting up Iraq is a bad idea. Talk of Sunni Arab separatism has, at least for the time being, subsided.

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