The United Nations-supported Arab League summit on the Syrian conflict underway in Iraq was overshadowed Thursday by a number of reported bomb blasts in Baghdad, where the conference is being held.
Blasts were heard near the Iranian embassy and Baghdad's secure Green Zone area as the summit got under way.
"It was a mortar round that landed near the [Iranian] embassy. There are no casualties, although some of the windows of the embassy were broken," a police officer shared, reported Al Jazeera.
This meeting is the first major international summit to be hosted by Iraq in a number of decades, and is seen as a step forward for Iraq to reaffirm itself as an important member of the Arab League after Saddam Hussein's removal in 2006.
As fighting between Syrian troops and anti-government protesters continues claiming lives on a daily basis, the U.N. and other countries in the Middle East are demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security forces pull out of opposition areas so that people sufering from the turmoil are allowed humanitarian access. The Syrian government has expressed a willingness to cooperate with peace efforts, the BBC reported, but much is still left to be discussed in the Baghdad meeting.
"The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation: there is no time to waste," urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the summit.
There are reportedly 22 representatives of Arab nations attending the summit, although only half are state leaders. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, is the first leader of that country to visit since former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The leaders and government envoys are due to discuss the peace plan brokered by U.N. envoy and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Many hope the peace plan will have an immediate effect and address the dire situation in Syria. The U.N. reports that over 9,000 people have been killed since fighting between opposition forces began a year ago. Concerns have been growing that promises President Assad made to cease fighting are not being kept, and the U.S. is urging extra pressure be put on the leader.
"It's incumbent on all of us to keep the pressure on Assad to meet the commitment that he's made, and that's our intention over the next few days," a White House spokesperson said.
There is skepticism coming from the Syrian National Council, the opposition movement, which has expressed doubts about the motives behind the summit and expressed little confidence that President Assad will adhere to any demands the Arab League makes.
"We are not sure if it's political maneuvering or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian National Council. "We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."