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Iraq hosts Arab League summit

BAGHDAD, March 27 (UPI) -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said hosting an Arab League summit in Baghdad will show league members his country can stand on its own two feet.

The growing powers of Turkey and Iran threaten to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Iraq but Zebari said the summit would give Iraq a chance to "enhance our position," The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

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Political observers say Iraq's government is determined to use the occasion to bring the country closer to the Arab world and temper competition between Turkey and Iran to fill the void left by the end of the U.S. military mission in December.

"These are the two most powerful neighbors [Iran and Turkey] that are competing to fill the vacuum in Iraq in the absence of an Iraqi representative, strong, national unity government," Zebari said.

Tuesday's summit of the Arab League is the first such gathering since the Arab Spring, which toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, and has seen unrest in several other countries.

Iraq has spent nearly $1 billion sprucing up the capital with millions of flowers and about 500,000 new trees.

Baghdad International Airport is closed to civilian traffic, and about 100,000 army and police have been mobilized to secure the visiting Arab dignitaries.

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