BAGHDAD // Red double-decker buses painted with signs welcomed guests arriving yesterday to the Arab League summit, while scores of security officials and tanks were in place to ensure safety at the event that begins today.
Iraq has spent US$500 million (Dh1.83bn) in preparation for the meeting of the 22-member league, with officials from the Arab world gathering in Baghdad for the first time since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"Baghdad's summit is a recognition of a new Iraq that has emerged since 2003," Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's minister of foreign affairs, said yesterday.
"It has been a monumental task to do it, to finish it, under the most difficult of conditions.
"It really should be called the Arab Spring summit, because we are now entering the season of spring and many of the new leaders will be here in Baghdad," Mr Zebari said, referring to the popular uprisings that ousted rulers in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
On the agenda will be the violent crackdown on protests in Syria by President Bashar Al Assad's regime, which monitors have said has killed more than 9,100 people in the past year.
"I don't think there will be a call for Bashar Al Assad to step aside", Mr Zebari said, but added that there could be a resolution on what action will be taken.
For security reasons, Mr Zebari would not disclose names of those attending but said the UAE was expected to be represented. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, will be attending as an observer.
Iraq's deputy national security adviser, Safa Hussein, said that Iraqi authorities had received reports that Al Qaeda's front group, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), was seeking to carry out attacks at the summit but added: "We think that the security will go well."
Several major roads have been closed for days and checkpoint searches have been stepped up, with security officers checking vehicle licence plates against lists of suspected attackers. But despite the tightened measures, ISI was able to carry out a wave of attacks in Iraq last Tuesday in which 50 people were killed and 255 injured.
However, officials said the summit will bring with it recognition that Iraq is increasingly stable, with dramatically less violence than during the country's sectarian war of previous years.
"This is a turning point for Iraq," Mr Zebari said.
"For the last few years, many of these [Arab] countries were ... hesitant, undecided, half-hearted. Now, no," he said. "I think we've made a major, major leap forward."
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse