BAGHDAD: Arab leaders gathering in Iraq’s capital today will call for Syria to implement a cease-fire, but there’s little faith that President Bashar Assad will do anything to halt his crackdown on the year-old uprising.
That could set the stage for Gulf Arab nations, eager to see Assad’s downfall, to take stronger action on their own.
Arab governments are divided over how strongly to intervene to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and their divisions illustrate how the conflict has become a proxy in the region’s wider rivalry — the one between Arabs and powerhouse Iran.
Sunni-led nations of the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar — hoping to break Syria out of its alliance with Shiite Iran — are believed to be considering arming the Syrian rebels to fight Assad’s forces. But other Arab nations are reluctant to openly call for that step yet.
Iraq, the host of the one-day Arab League summit, is in a particularly tight spot because its Shiite-led government has close ties to Iran, Assad’s top ally.
Given the divisions, foreign ministers meeting Wednesday laid out a middle-ground for their leaders to issue at the summit. The draft resolution they put together would reject foreign intervention in Syria while voicing support for the Syrian people’s “legitimate aspirations to freedom and democracy.” It would call on Assad to implement a cease-fire and let in humanitarian aid.
The leaders also “denounce the acts of violence, killings ... and remain committed to a peaceful settlement and national dialogue,” it said.
It also supports the mission of joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has put forward a peace plan to end the regime’s crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 9,000 people since the uprising began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged to the media that the summit will offer “nothing new” on Syria, but will complement ongoing international diplomacy to settle the crisis.
Damascus has accepted Annan’s plan, which includes a cease-fire. Violence has continued, however, with clashes between government forces and armed rebels. Syria’s opposition is deeply skeptical that Assad will carry out the terms of Annan’s plan.
The plan also calls on Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas, and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations.
Opposition members accuse Assad of agreeing to Annan’s plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent.
“We are not sure if it’s political maneuvering or a sincere act,” said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. “We have no trust in the current regime”
The Assad regime has pre-?emptively rejected anything coming out of the summit, a reflection of its refusal to deal with the 22-member body since it suspended Syria’s membership last year.