In yet another sign of how much the Middle East unrest has worsened relations between Iraq and the Gulf States, the Arab League is canceling its Baghdad summit scheduled for May 10.
Iraq, along with Iran, objected to forces from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia garrisoning in Bahrain, signalling growing tensions between Sunni Arab states and Iraq's Shiite-dominated government.
“We refused [their action] because it is against the Arab League’s charter,” AFP quoted Iraq’s foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying.
Prior to the announcement of the cancelation of the Baghdad summit, the League’s outgoing secretary general, Amr Mussa of Egypt, had said that it might be best to delay the meeting because of the unrest.
“The public mood in the region is transitional, nervous and rebellious, which leads us to ask whether it is wise to hold a summit in this period,” he said.
Iraq had shown its willingness to host the Arab summit, which it has done twice before in 1978 and in 1990. It spent more than $400 million to prepare for the May “historical’ summit,” which it hoped would be seen as a symbol of its re-integration into the region and mending political and economic fences.
The UAE, which currently heads the GCC council, submitted a request in the name of the Gulf States to cancel the Arab League Summit in Baghdad due to Iraq’s backing of opposition protests in Bahrain, Deputy Arab League Secretary General Ambassador Mohammad Sabih told the Iraqi channel Alsumarianews.
“Mr. Moussa is currently making calls to Iraq and Gulf countries to postpone the summit or to hold it in another country in order to avoid canceling it altogether,” Mr. Sabih said.
The uprising in Bahrain has triggered sectarian tremors in the region, as it is a Shiite majority ruled by a Sunni dynasty.
Shiites in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon have shown solidarity with the Shiite-led Bahrain opposition, which is pressing for the country to become a constitutional monarchy.
In March, Bahrain expelled dozens of Shiite Lebanese for alleged ties to Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after endorsement by the GCC to do so.
On Wednesday, the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said that Iran should reconsider its policies in the region and respect the unity of Gulf countries.
It “should respect the unity and sovereignty of Gulf countries,” he said.
(Dina Al Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)