Source: New York Times
Author: Jack Healy
BAGHDAD — As Arab leaders converge on Baghdad for a landmark summit meeting this week, they will be treated to carefully chosen glimpses of a new Iraq: gleaming hotel lobbies, renovated palaces and young palm trees lining an airport highway once called the Road of Death.
For Iraqi diplomats and officials, the three-day meeting of the Arab League is a banner moment for a country emerging from decades of war, occupation and diplomatic isolation. Iraq’s leaders see a rare chance to reassert themselves as players in a transformed Arab world by hosting the first major diplomatic event here since American troops withdrew in December.
But just beyond the cement walls and freshly planted petunias of the International Zone lies a ragged country with a bleaker view. Out in the real Iraq, suicide bombings still rip through the streets. Sectarian divisions have paralyzed its politics and weakened its stature with powerful neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran, who use money and militias to aggressively pursue their own agendas inside Iraq. Despite its aspirations to wield influence as a new Arab democracy, Iraq may well remain more of a stage than an actor.
But that is not for lack of effort to reclaim its role as a powerful player in the region. In recent weeks, Iraqi diplomats intensified a campaign of deal-making and diplomacy aimed at wooing Sunni Arab nations while trying to refute the popular suspicion that its rulers are tools of Shiite Iran.