Divided Arabs Deliver Little

DAMASCUS, Mar 31 (IPS) – The Arab summit held in Damascus over this weekend has convinced many Iraqis that Arab leaders do not speak for them.

More than anything done or not, the very absence of many Arab leaders at the summit has left displaced Iraqis here angry.

“It was a disappointment to us that some Arab leaders decided not to attend the summit in Damascus,” Dr. Zeki al-Khazraji, an Iraqi refugee in Syria told IPS. “We were looking forward to the summit thinking it might discuss our agonies that have lasted too long without any sign of improvement. If not the Arab leaders, who will think of us?”

Many Iraqi refugees say Arab leaders are cut off from their own people.

“The Iraqi fire is spreading to the Arab world and our leaders must think of their own positions,” Salim Mahmood, an Iraqi freelance journalist in Damascus told IPS. “We cannot understand why Iraqis are left alone to face daily death while Arabs just watch in silence.

“We are trying to understand the pressures applied on our brothers, but meanwhile we demand real intervention from our brothers to stop our government and the Americans from spilling our blood like water in Iraq.”

The Arab summit kicked off Saturday with a fiery speech from Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi attacking fellow Arab leaders for doing nothing while the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

“How can we accept that a foreign power comes to topple an Arab leader while we stand watching,” said Gaddafi. Saddam Hussein, he said, had once been an ally of Washington. “But they sold him out.” He then pointed to Arab officials at the conference to say, “Your turn is next.”

The Libyan leader added: “Where is the Arabs’ dignity, their future, their very existence? Everything has disappeared.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says there are at least 1.5 million displaced Iraqis in Syria alone.

“Five years now, and things are getting worse in Iraq while only two poor Arab countries (Syria and Jordan) are taking the load of Iraqis who fled their country for safety,” Malek Sabeeh from the Iraqi Centre for Human Rights told IPS.

“Syria was our first safe haven, but how long can this country that has limited resources stand the high cost of hosting such a huge number of refugees while other countries are paying billions of dollars for building separation walls between them and Iraq, and now boycotting such an important summit.” Sabeeh was referring to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who are building protection walls along their borders with Iraq.

Leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan stayed away from the summit after Washington urged its allies to think twice before attending.

Many Iraqi refugees also expressed anger over the lack of support from the Gulf countries. Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates do not allow Iraqis in, and their contributions to Iraqi refugees have been modest.

Many Iraqis say the absence of many Arab leaders highlighted the deep divisions caused by the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq across the Middle East. “This nation will never be united as long as Americans have their fingers in the area,” Sheikh Faris Ahmed, an Iraqi cleric who brought his son for medical treatment in Syria told IPS.

Egypt and some Gulf countries have recently signed arms deals with the U.S. worth several billion dollars.

(*Maki, our correspondent in Syria, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported from the region for more than four years.)