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Summit shows Iraq 'regaining place' in world

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 29, 2012 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Ban says "the winds of change will not cease to blow"
  • The Kuwaiti emir is attending the meeting
  • Baghdad last hosted the summit more than two decades ago
  • A mile from the summit venue, mortars injure four security personnel

Baghdad (CNN) -- The Arab League summit kicked off in Baghdad Thursday, a gathering that signals the political emergence of post-war democratic Iraq.

Unprecedented security blanketed Baghdad for the summit, the first in Iraq since 1990. It was originally scheduled to be held in Baghdad last year, but was postponed due to unrest.

The gathering tests Iraq's ability to provide critical organization and security in the country, where deadly violence remains a weekly norm since the U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

As the meeting got under way, two mortar rounds landed near the provincial governor's office and the Iranian Embassy, more than a mile from the summit venue, witnesses and a governor's official said. At least four security force members were wounded, they said.

World leaders hailed the summit as a milestone in Iraq's development.

"After so many years of suffering -- repression, sanctions, war and economic hardship -- our collective presence in Baghdad is a testament to the great strides Iraq has made," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the group Thursday.

"This summit in Baghdad clearly shows that Iraq is regaining its place in the Arab world and the wider international community. The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are well behind us."

Referring to the wave of popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, Ban said the summit takes place "at a momentous time for Iraq and the Arab world."

Previous summits included Arab leaders who no longer hold power due to the uprisings in several nations, including the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"The winds of change will not cease to blow," Ban said.

Among the issues on the agenda are the yearlong crackdown on opposition in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, the Arab-Israeli conflict, international terrorism, and making the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Among the leaders attending is Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Saba. It's the first visit by Kuwait's head of state since 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby arrived Sunday in Baghdad with a small delegation in advance of the summit.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide, is also at the meeting.

Al-Bashir has traveled to other Arab countries despite the ICC warrants against him for alleged war crimes and genocide in the Darfur region, where rebels have fought government forces and allied militiamen such as the Janjaweed since 2003.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Amir Ahmed, Arwa Damon and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report

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