Arab economy ministers meet ahead of Baghdad summit

AFP , Tuesday 27 Mar 2012

As the Arab world faces financial woes in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, economy, finance and trade ministers are scheduled to discuss solutions in Baghdad ahead of a the Arab League summit on Thursday

Arab economy, finance and trade ministers were to meet on Tuesday in Baghdad ahead of a summit of regional leaders, a pivotal moment as Iraq seeks to re-emerge as a key regional player.

The talks were due to begin at midday (0900 GMT) with the focus on increasing tourism, tackling water security and responding to natural disasters.

Arab foreign ministers are to meet on Wednesday, on the eve of the summit, the first regular summit to be held in Baghdad in over 20 years.

Some Arab states face economic crises, due to sharp falls in tourism because of uprisings in the region over the past year, while oil-producing states continue to benefit from soaring oil prices.

Syria, where monitors say over 9,100 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule since last March, will take centre stage this week.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said there "will be a resolution definitely on Syria," but admitted that he did not "think there will be a call on Bashar to step aside."

The fallout from other Arab uprisings -- which toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and put pressure for reform on other autocratic regimes in the region -- are also likely to be discussed.

More than 100,000 members of Iraq's forces are providing security in the capital, and Iraq has spent upwards of $500 million to refurbish major hotels, summit venues and infrastructure.

Despite the dramatically tighter measures, Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq managed to carry out a wave of nationwide attacks on March 20 that 50 lives, including three people killed in a car bomb that exploded opposite the foreign ministry.

The summit was originally due to be held in Baghdad a year ago but was delayed by regional turmoil resulting from the Arab Spring uprisings, as well as concerns over violence in Iraq.

As a result of the revolts, many familiar faces will not attend: since the start of 2011, Libya's Moamer Kadhafi has been killed, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak forced to step down, Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh has handed power to his deputy and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has fled to Saudi Arabia.

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