Baghdad successfully hosted the 23rd Arab League summit on Thursday (March 29th), marking the first time Arab leaders converged on Iraqi soil in 22 years.
Iraqi officials saw the event as a sign of the return of their country to playing an important role in the Arab region after many years of isolation.
"Convening the Arab summit in Baghdad is glaring evidence that Iraq has regained its health and stability thanks to the success of the democratic political process. It is also a renewal of Iraq's keenness to strengthen ties with its Arab environment," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is the first Kurdish leader to chair an Arab summit, said in his opening address.
The summit meeting was attended by nine Arab leaders, including the emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since 1990.
Other leaders included the Sudanese president, the chairman of the Libyan Transitional Council, and the presidents of Lebanon, Tunisia, Somalia, the Comoro Islands, Djibouti and the Palestinian Authority.
Other Arab states were represented by ministers, ambassadors and envoys.
The summit was also attended by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union, Noureddine Bouchkouj, and the secretary-general of the Islamic conference Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.
Syria was absent from the summit because its membership in the Arab League has been suspended since last October. Saudi Arabia and Qatar dispatched their permanent representatives at the Arab League to attend the summit.
The Emir of Kuwait, whose visit is considered a historic event -- being the first of its kind since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 -- said, "Iraq regained its freedom, dignity, and democracy, and ended a dark period after which it started to resume its usual joint Arab work."
The summit took a different form from the last summit held two years ago, following revolutions and popular Arab protest movements that ousted rulers who had held power for decades.
The previous summit was held in Sirte, Libya, in 2010, and was led by Libyan Colonel Mummar Kadhafi, who was killed last year in an armed revolt that ousted his regime.
The Syrian crisis topped the summit's agenda, which also included other issues such as the Palestinian issue and Arab revolutions.
Ban Ki-Moon called on the Syrian authorities to accept the six-point international plan, and pressed the opposition to cooperate with the envoy of the Arab league and the United Nations, former UN secretary-general Kofi Anan.
He said the conflict in Syria "could pose a danger to the region […] and the government failed in protecting its people […] having placed the people under coercive force."
The plan, proposed by Anan, calls on all parties to end armed violence, and calls for a two-hour ceasefire every day to allow humanitarian and medical assistance to reach affected areas.
On Tuesday, the UN announced that the Syrian government had agreed to the plan, but Jihad Maqdasy, spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, told AFP, "We shall not deal with any plan originating from any level of the Arab league."
Meanwhile, the emir of Kuwait called on the Syrian government to "listen to the language of reason and wisdom by stopping all kinds of violence against its own people."
Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki called on his Syrian counterpart to step down.
"We ought to persuade him [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] that there is no solution except by the president stepping down in favor of his deputy who would be asked to form a government to lead a transitional period which will end with free, honest elections that would restore the sovereignty to the country, and dignity for the people," he said.
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said the absence of Syria from this summit "would not lessen our concern over what is going on in it." He affirmed the summit's rejection of "all acts of violence" and its renewed "call for finding a peaceful way to resolve the Syrian crisis in the light of the Arab plan" and international efforts.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for "negotiations under the patronage of the Arab League and the United Nations to form a national unity government that would prepare for a free, honest election there."
Baghdad saw unprecedented security measures during the summit, which was held at the Republican Palace inside the International Zone (formerly called the Green Zone).
About 100,000 security personnel have been deployed in the capital, while security authorities closed some Baghdad streets, doubled the number of checkpoints, cut off communications from the city, and closed its airport.
The Iraqi ministries of defence and interior announced on Thursday that the security plan implemented during the summit had succeeded.
"The efforts made by the security forces and the co-operation shown by Iraqi citizens helped to a great extent in accomplishing this success," the statement read.
Ahmad Bin Hilli, the deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, told Mawtani, "I personally saw the general situation in the Iraqi capital Baghdad," adding, "We are pleased by what we found."
Terrorists and terror organisations operating under the umbrella of al-Qaeda were one of the subjects discussed by Arab leaders during the summit.
Al-Maliki warned against the possibility of al-Qaeda gaining "new hideouts after it was defeated in Iraq, [especially] in Arab countries that are witnessing important developments but are still in the process of rebuilding their institutions".
He also cautioned against the possibility of "al-Qaeda riding the wave of the Arab uprisings".
By hosting the Arab summit, Iraq accomplished an important success represented by its return to the Arab environment and regaining its regional role, according to Iraqi and Arab officials and analysts.
Bin Hilli told Mawtani that the Baghdad summit "turned into an official gate for the return of Arab and regional balance again".
He said the summit "has revived unity for the Arabs in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, plurality, and rejection of extremism and violence".
In turn, Moroccan foreign minister Saadeddine Othmani told Mawtani, "Holding the Arab summit in Baghdad is sufficient evidence of Iraq's importance as a free, independent, united country -- a country where citizens feel the taste of freedom and fight for it."
"The Arabs are in need of Iraq returning again to its position of leading the joint Arab action during the present sensitive period through which the region is passing," he said.
Libyan foreign minister Ashour Bin Khayal told Mawtani, "It is possible to describe the summit as successful, and contrary to all expectations, we found Baghdad not like what the media and newspapers had painted."
Political analyst and professor of international relations at Baghdad University, Dr. Issam Farhan, told Mawtani, "The Baghdad summit has worked out in the interest of Iraq, placing it at the gates of an important historical turning point, because it is the first Arab summit that convened after the Arab Spring and after the transformation of a number of states into democratic systems."
He said the meeting in Baghdad has "considerable importance because it is the first forum where the new Arab leaders meet."