Libya's foreign minister officially opened the Arab League summit in Baghdad, the first to be held in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It is also the first time since 1990 that Iraq has accepted a Saudi Arabian ambassador. According to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, "Iraq is keen to build the best relationship with the Kingdom, which will benefit and be in the best interests of the two countries and the two peoples." The meeting is a critical opportunity for Iraq to demonstrate it has begun to emerge from the conflict that started in 2003 with the U.S.-led invasion. However, safety concerns run high despite massive security measures taken to prevent any disruptions of the meeting. The summit will cover Iraq's economic crisis, though it is expected to be overshadowed by discussion on Syria. Arab leaders will work on a draft resolution to end violence in Syria, appealing to the "Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the (U.N.-Arab League) envoy (Kofi Annan) by starting serious national dialogue." However, Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi asserted that "Syria will not cooperate with any Arab League initiative at any level."
Clashes have continued throughout Syria despite President Bashar al-Assad's acceptance on Tuesday of a peace plan proposed by United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. According to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian forces and armored vehicles have entered the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in Hama province after over two weeks of assault with shelling and heavy gunfire. However, the town is not under complete control of the military according to the rights group: "Heavy clashes between regime forces and armed rebels are preventing the army from advancing." Violent clashes were also reported in Homs, the northwestern Idlib province, and the southern Daraa province. Witnesses additionally claim fighting spilled over the Syrian border into a Lebanese village. Meanwhile, United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said Syrian authorities are systematically detaining and torturing children and also noted that the U.N. Security Council has enough evidence for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
- Unknown gunmen kidnapped Saudi Arabia's deputy consul, Abdullah al-Khalidi, outside his home in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden.
- Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran expects nuclear talks with world powers to take place on April 13 in Turkey. Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its sanctions.
- Israel's construction of a new border fence between Egypt's Sinai and Israel's Negev desserts is drawing criticism that the country is increasing isolation.
- Shaul Mofaz unseated Tzipi Livni in the centrist and liberal Kadima party's election primaries raising questions about the policy direction and whether the party will join a coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu's Lihud party.
Arguments & Analysis
‘Taking the next step: Security sector reform in Libya' (Benedetta Berti, Gonca Noyan, Hristiana Grozdanova, & Jelena Petrovic, Open Democracy)
"Following the capitulation of the regime in Libya, the new political authority has found itself with a nearly disintegrated and badly equipped army. In addition, the NTC also faces the challenge of integrating or dissolving hundreds of parallel non-state armed groups and merging them to create a new and truly national army. As Libya continues with this monumental effort, it will be important-following the June elections for the creation of a national congress-to take concrete steps to create strong mechanisms of parliamentary oversight of the armed forces, as well as to invest in the demilitarization of the Ministry of Defence."
‘Stopping Assad, saving Syria' (New York Times -- ‘Room for Debate)
While the Russians have been fairly stalwart in their support of Damascus, they too must be watching Syria's deterioration with alarm. Moscow stands to lose billions in economic and military investments, not to mention its last strategic ally in the Arab world, if Syria descends into a sectarian civil war. A Russian decision to disavow the Assads would deal a critical blow to this core circle of power, possibly prompting a military coup. Peeling the military away from the Assads and their supporters could be an important first step for a Syrian transition. From Russia's standpoint, this may be the best option, allowing them to preserve their influence and investments in Syria.
Arab and international diplomatic efforts have not stopped the bloodshed, nor have they deterred Iran and Russia from continuing to supply Syria with weapons, intelligence and training. The U.S. and its allies should call for Assad to step down immediately, and prepare to arm his opponents. Syria is already in a state of civil war, and arming opposition forces will at least give them a chance to protect themselves. International leaders are no fools, and their insistence on dialogue at this stage makes them both morally complicit in the continuing crackdown, and culpable for the instability that will result if Assad clings to power. After all, an animal is never more dangerous than when it is wounded.
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey