Iraq reviews security measures ahead of Arab summit in Baghdad
Iraqi forces may shut down Baghdad and its airspace to safeguard an upcoming Arab League summit in the capital because Al-Qaeda is seeking to derail the meeting, a senior general said on Monday.
Lieutenant General Hassan al-Baydhani said security forces hoped to keep the Iraqi capital "functioning" for the summit, but noted that plans were already set to limit air travel on March 29 only to dignitaries attending the meeting, with officials considering barring vehicle traffic that day as well.
His remarks come amid questions over whether Iraq's forces are able to secure the capital for the summit, the first non-emergency meeting of the 22-nation body to be held in violence-wracked Baghdad in more than 30 years.
"Al-Qaeda is working hard to create chaos and trying hard to gain media attention," Baydhani, chief of staff for the Baghdad security command centre, said in his office in the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone.
He added that loyalists of now-executed leader Saddam Hussein were also looking to carry out attacks.
"We are working to keep Baghdad functioning normally during the summit," he said, adding: "We do not plan to put in place a curfew, but maybe necessity will require that."
Baydhani continued: "Certainly airspace will be limited only to" planes carrying top officials visiting Iraq for the summit, with commercial air traffic set to be barred.
An extra 10 brigades of security forces -- four police and six army -- had been sent to Baghdad to reinforce the capital's own massive security apparatus, amounting to around an additional 5,000 soldiers and policemen.
Baydhani said security forces had carried out several operations in a bid to clear areas of the capital, and had arrested some 10 senior Al-Qaeda fighters who he said were plotting to carry out attacks in Baghdad.
"There are no security concerns," he said.
"We have assured the presidents (of the Arab League) of our security measures, and the ambassadors of the various countries have seen the measures that have been taken, and they have seen the security training."
Iraqi leaders have given repeated assurances that all necessary security arrangements are in place for the summit despite the frequent violence still rocking the country, which saw 150 people killed in February, according to official figures.
Gulf Arab countries may not send their heads of state to the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has warned, to protest at what they say is interference in their affairs by some Shiite parties in Iraq's governing coalition.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said late last month that neighbouring Syria would not be invited to the Baghdad summit, in accordance with the bloc's decision last November to suspend the Damascus regime in protest at its deadly crackdown on dissent.