Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki Image Credit: AP

Iraq announced the success of the Arab summit that was held in Baghdad from March 27 to 29. In reality, similar announcements were made 22 times before that in different Arab capitals where the summit has also been held before.

However, my aim here is not to assess the results of those summits or their "overwhelming" success or what they have achieved for the Arab citizen. Rather, it is to focus on some aspects of the Baghdad summit.

The Baghdad summit happened under extraordinary circumstances, following the downfall of five Arab regimes — in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. It also took place following a year of the Arab Spring, which shattered the formal Arab system that had been entrenched by previous Arab summits. The idea of holding these summits was to ensure the status quo in Arab politics.

This summit was held at a time of heightened tensions in the Arab world, including in Iraq. And while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was keen to project a glittering image of his country, as he tried to do in the speech he delivered at the summit, his opponents sought to display another picture by not attending the conference.

On the other hand, the Baghdad summit was the most complicated and expensive summit in the history of all Arab summits. There were many doubts surrounding it since last year, when it was postponed due to the unstable security situation in Iraq and the difficult relationship between the Iraqi government and the governments in many Arab countries.

The summit's expense was also overwhelming. Radio Sawa aired a statement by one of the members of the parliamentary financial committee in Iraq a few days before the summit, wherein the lawmaker said that more than $1.4 billion (Dh5.1 billion) was spent in 2011 and 2012 in preparation for the summit.

Although final communiques issued by previous Arab summits were similar to one another, the Baghdad communique was a bit different.

Summit's success

The Arab Spring left its imprints on the draft, and featured in the closing communique issued by the summit.

The Baghdad Declaration backed the Arab Spring and said that the summit adopts a comprehensive view towards political, economic and social reforms in a manner that safeguards the Arab citizen's integrity and protects his rights.

The sixth article of the announcement pointed out the developments and political changes in the Arab region. It also spoke of the major democratic steps taken, and saluted the people who led their countries towards change.

We also have to stop here and consider the use of the word ‘successful', which was how the Iraqi government described the Baghdad summit. Was it successful because Iraq was able to host the summit? Or was it successful because those attending the summit were able to achieve well-defined goals regarding important Arab issues, which concern people at the political, intellectual, social and economic levels? Or was it successful in enhancing the rights enjoyed by the people and the level of their contribution to the political and social life in their respective countries?

There are issues that cannot be overlooked when talking about the success of the summit, as indicated by the Iraqi government. The success of any government in its regional and international relations is deeply connected to the success of its domestic policies. There are so many complications in this respect that we cannot delve into them here. However, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed.

Has the Iraqi government overcome the country's unending hardships, starting with the paralysed political process and the corruption that is clogging its veins?

Has the government succeeded in solving its deep-rooted problems with its major partners in the political process? What about the massive sums spent on the summit? How can this be justified while Iraq's health and educational sectors are in such dire straits?

Was enforcing a curfew for two weeks, thereby depriving people from being able to move freely, granted in the constitution?

Was the absence of key Iraqi leaders from the summit another indicator of its "success"? And was the absence of two-thirds of Arab leaders from the summit another indicator?

The Baghdad summit did not receive much popular sympathy. In fact, it engendered a lot of hard feelings. The capital was transformed into a military base, and the freedom of people was restricted, which resulted in additional misery.

Much has been written about the Baghdad summit, and most articles were positive, indicating that Iraq had returned to its Arab environment.

However, the over-optimistic forgot that Iraq has been suffering from a lack of national identity and this can be seen clearly in the conduct of people, and in their increased sectarian and ethnic affiliations.

Those concerned about Iraq's future are not wary about Iraq's return to the Arab fold at this moment. Rather, they are very worried about Iraq maintaining its unity and territorial integrity. Only a united Iraq can play a positive role in its Arab environment.

 

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.