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Iraq Arab League summit opens with eyes on Syria

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“I don’t think there will be a call for Bashar to step aside but we will support a [Syrian] political process ... that will lead to change of the regime peacefully,” Mr. Zebari told reporters this week.

Civil war

Iraq, apart from Syria the only Arab country with a Shiite-led government, worries that intervention could push Syria further into civil war.

Thursday’s summit marks Iraq’s political return to an Arab world dominated by Sunni Arab governments and still deeply suspicious of Shiite-led Iraq’s ties with Iran. In one of the biggest signs of Baghdad’s diplomatic leap forward, Kuwait’s emir has said he will attend the summit.

On the eve of the finance ministers’ meeting that precedes the summit, Saudi Arabia’s first ambassador to Iraq in two decades presented his credentials to the foreign ministry.

Iraqi officials say nine of the 21 countries invited have confirmed they will send their head of state while most others will send senior officials. Syria was suspended from the Arab League last year.

Seen by outsiders as a diplomatic detail, the seniority of those attending is a crucial and closely-watched barometer of diplomatic ties. Nine heads of state in attendance is a credible number for Arab summits which rarely have more than a dozen of the 22 appearing. According to officials, attendance is a guessing game until the last moment for the countries involving, depending on who else has agreed to attend or is expected to.

Although Qatar, as current head of the Arab League, would normally be expected to have the head of state present to hand over that position, the Gulf state is expected to send a much lower-level official.

“I think there is a tension between the Qatari position on Syria and the Iraqi position, and I think they will probably not want to reward Iraq to that extent,” said a senior Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There would be some reluctance on the part of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states for Maliki to be seen as a huge victor.”

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