BAGHDAD — An Arab League summit planned for Baghdad next month was postponed again Wednesday as political unrest continues to roil the Middle East.
The delay was not unexpected, but it drew protests from Iraqi leaders, who had argued that the summit could give Arab countries an important first chance to discuss the changes taking places across the region.
Iraq lawmakers said the forum’s second postponement also indicated that neighboring Arab leaders intend never to hold the conference in Baghdad, which, although safer than in recent years, still struggles with near-daily incidents of violence.
The league has not met in Iraq since 1990, and the country has spent months and hundreds of millions of dollars refurbishing one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in the Green Zone and other buildings to host the conference — even as most areas of the capital remain without electricity for 20 hours or more a day.
An aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on state-run television Wednesday that representatives of the Arab League would meet May 15 to choose a new date for the conference. It was not clear whether Baghdad would remain the venue.
The deputy secretary general of the 22-member organization was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that unrest, not the security situation in Baghdad, has led to the delay.
“The public mood in the region is transitional, nervous and rebellious, which leads us to ask whether it is wise to hold a summit in this period,” Ahmed Ben Hilli said.
A day earlier, Iraqi parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said that going forward with the meeting would be healthy for the Arab world and Iraq.
“The summit is a chance for the Arab countries to take part and have a role concerning the events that are happening in the region and around the world,” he said.
Several experts have speculated that Arab leaders might not be willing to leave their countries for months for fear their absence could encourage protesters.
Also Wednesday, more than 1,000 Sunnis demonstrated in Fallujah after the death of a gas station owner who was shot Tuesday by an Iraqi army officer. The army’s forces in the area are mostly controlled by Shiites.