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Iraq seeks to transform its image

March 26, 2012 at 9:09 AM   |   Comments

BAGHDAD, March 26 (UPI) -- Iraq has spent two years and $500 million to put its best face forward for the Arab League summit in the country this week, observers say.

The three-day summit will be the first major diplomatic event in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December and the country is seeking to portray itself as a transformed country in the eyes of Arab leaders, The New York Times reported.

The former Republican Palace, where leaders will gather for the summit, is among several government buildings and hotels that have been remodeled.

The government has bought 2,000 suits and 2,000 ties bearing the summit's insignia, shelled out $600,000 for stationery and $1 million for flowers and planted palm trees along an airport highway once called the Road to Death. Thousands of security forces have been redeployed to the capital city of Baghdad.

But beyond the glitz, Iraq faces enormous struggles. Suicide bombings continue. Sectarian differences divide the government and have hurt relations with bordering countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, which the Times says use money and militia in pursuing their own agendas in Iraq. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces criticism for his authoritarian rule and his government has cracked down on a youth movement.

At the same time, the Sunni minority complains of being disenfranchised.

"Iraq's internal issues -- and differing interpretations of threats and interests -- make it difficult for the country to pursue a coherent, unified foreign policy and to project its influence," Emma Sky, a former adviser to Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the United States' former commander in Iraq, wrote in a forthcoming paper on Iraq.

Iraq has managed recently to resolve a $500 million dispute over reparations from the Gulf War, enabling Iraqi airplanes to go abroad without concerns of being seized to pay off war debts.

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