Gulf nations are asking the Arab League to cancel an upcoming summit in Iraq, saying that the “atmosphere is not right” for leaders of the 22-member group to meet in Baghdad while political unrest persists across the region. The request signals growing tensions between Sunni Arab states and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government that has supported the uprising of Bahrain’s Shiite majority against the Sunni rulers.
Relations between Iraq and Bahrain have deteriorated since the tiny Gulf island’s monarch declared martial law last month and invited troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help quell the Shiite rebellion.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have asked the Arab League to cancel the meeting. “The atmosphere is not right to hold the meeting in Iraq,” he said in comments, posted on his Twitter account late Tuesday.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said yesterday he has not yet been “officially informed of any GCC demand to postpone the summit”. The two-day summit is scheduled to take place in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 10-11. It had already been rescheduled from March because of the unprecedented political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and in the tiny, but strategically important Bahrain that is the home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Bahrain’s decision to invite a Gulf force of about 1,500 troops to help end the Shiite rebellion has deepened the kingdom’s sectarian divide. The unrest in the nation of 700,000 has also inflamed tensions between the peninsula’s Sunni heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, and neighboring Iran, a Shiite theocracy. Iran blasted the deployment of the Saudi-led force in Bahrain and Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki warned that the crackdown could ignite sectarian violence across the region.
Hundreds of Iraq’s majority Shiites – many still reeling from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni – have been taking to the streets in demonstrations against Bahrain’s ruling elite and Saudi Arabia. In addition to Bahrain, the GCC countries include Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Agencies