Fate of Baghdad summit to be decided by Arab League FMs

Arab League foreign ministers will meet to decide the fate of a summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad in May following demands to cancel the meeting, Iraq's foreign minister and the Arab League head said on Thursday.

Countries in the Middle East and north Africa have been rocked by protests over political repression and economic hardships which resulted in the ousting of long-serving rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. That had already prompted the league to delay the summit from March to May.

Bahrain's foreign minister has said that the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had asked Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa to cancel the summit scheduled for May after Baghdad criticized Manama's crackdown on Shia protesters.

"It is not in our hands or in the hands of one country to decide to postpone a summit," Moussa told journalists, calling on Arab foreign ministers to meet to discuss the matter. He set no date for such a meeting.

The Arab summit is viewed as important for Iraq's reintegration into the Arab world eight years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"The general environment in the Arab world and the mood which is marred by tensions, vengeance, and human tragedies is tense and does not allow for a productive meeting at this stage," Moussa added.

A successful summit would help Iraq to reassure its neighbors, mainly Sunni Arab-dominated governments, who view the rise of Iraq's Shia majority with suspicion and fear the growing influence of Shia-dominated Iran.

It would also be a test of the readiness of its army and police as US troops fully withdraw by the end of the year.

The foreign ministers will meet to decide on the time, but will not discuss the location of the summit, the two officials said.

"We affirm Baghdad's full security and logistic preparation to host the summit at its scheduled date," Iraq's foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters. He said a proposal to put it to a vote among foreign ministers was the way forward.

"Iraq is committed to holding the summit in Baghdad."

Iraq, along with Iran and Shia groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, criticized a heavy-handed security crackdown by Bahrain's Sunni rulers on Shia protesters, adding to tensions between Sunni Gulf countries and their Shia-led neighbors in the world's top oil-exporting region.

Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia that fears the regional influence of Shia powers Iran and Iraq and diplomats say the small island state in the past has launched diplomatic initiatives on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

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