An Ordinary Summit in Extraordinary Times

April 5, 2012

As the Arab Summit drew to a close, the Kurds in many ways could be seen as present absentees at the event. The conduct of the prime minister and comments from Baghdad about the presence of the Kurds at the summit shows how much work still needs to be done by the Kurds if they truly want to be part of the new Iraq.

Despite heavy Kurdish presence at the summit, the declaration and the statements failed to mention the Kurds or the reality of the new Iraq. While we were expecting the summit to be the summit of the Arab Spring, the summit of the new Arab world, the summit of the people, it remained locked in a traditional summit style.

The Baghdad summit was a good opportunity to prove that Iraq is the capital of the new Arab world — the capital of the new Middle East. But the performance of both the Kurds and the Iraqi government meant that the summit had a classic, Arabic slant.

The summit represented a challenge to many in Baghdad and holding it was seen as an achievement despite the high security and cost implications. The euphoria of hosting the summit made many of those involved overlook the fact that it was being held in the new Iraq and needed to send the right message to Arabs.

The low profile of representation coupled with the classic way the summit was handled by the Iraqis turned it into an ordinary summit. The only difference between this summit and previous ones was the fact that three Kurds headed all the meetings and that it finally took place in Baghdad.

The Iraqis could have turned around this ordinary summit in extraordinary circumstances. Instead of trying to have a normal summit, the Iraqis could have demonstrated the difference between them and the rest of the Arab world by having a country owned by all, shared by all and ruled by all.

President Barzani could have received the Arab delegations in Baghdad and placed the Kurdistan Region on the agenda. His departure at the start of the summit opened the door for many critics to say that he did not support it.

President Talabani could have repeated the historic moment of his first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly by saying a few sentences in Kurdish. President Talabani could have greeted the delegates and heads of state in all the other spoken languages of Iraq — Turkoman, Assyrian and Kurdish.

PM Maliki lost an important chance to turn the event in his favor. He could have mentioned the Kurdistan Region in his speech and the new status that the Kurds, Turkoman and Assyrians are enjoying in Iraq. He also failed to invite a senior KRG figure to sit with him at the Iraq desk.

All or any of these scenarios could have turned the summit from an ordinary one to an extraordinary one that marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the Arab world.

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