Iraq's top diplomat said Monday his country's security forces are ready to protect Mideast leaders who will attend the Arab League summit in May, even as bombings and shootings across Iraq killed 20 people, including four policemen.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters the two-day meeting is still scheduled to start May 10 and none of the Arab states have asked to delay or cancel it despite the unrest sweeping through many of the league's 22 member nations.
There had been doubts over whether Baghdad was stable enough to host the annual meeting of Arab heads of state.
"The security issue is our top priority," Zebari said. "Our security preparations can assure (delegates) the highest degree of safety."
"I believe no country will stay away, because this is an important event for us all," he said.
The summit marks the first time in 20 years the Arab League will meet in Baghdad, and officials hope it will be a boon to the economy and show off security strides taken since the capital was torn apart by sectarian fighting just a few years ago.
The summit was postponed from March.
Zebari said the meeting is not only important to Iraq, but to Arab countries whose people "are eager for freedom, justice and democracy."
Inspired by the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, protests are taking place in Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Bahrain to demand reforms or regime change.
But even as Zebari was heralding Iraq's security, extremists launched bombings in Baghdad, the western city of Fallujah and on a farm in eastern Diyala province — underscoring their continued success at sowing violence.
The deadliest attack Monday struck a Shiite family that recently returned to their farmland located in a swath of disputed territories in northern Iraq. Eight people were killed by bombs buried among their crops, including three women — one of whom was pregnant, said a policeman at the scene in Diyala province.
The family had been forced from their home years ago during the sectarian fighting that swept Iraq, but came back in late 2010. Disputed territories are one of Iraq's potential flashpoints as religious sects fight over land they have each lived on.
In the western city of Fallujah, once an al-Qaida stronghold, two policemen died when a car bomb they were trying to diffuse blew up near a school and market around 11 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, a second blast nearby killed four civilians and injured 20 who had rushed to the scene.
In Baghdad, four civilians were killed and 11 others were wounded during morning rush hour when the minibus they were riding in hit a roadside bomb. Two more policemen were shot to death in separate attacks Monday afternoon.
A senior European Union official told a Baghdad press conference that he understood Iraqis' frustrations with the slow progress security forces are making toward securing the country.
Francisco Diaz Alcantud, head of the EU's Rule of Law Mission for Iraq urged patience, noting that more time and resources will be needed to fix what he described as the challenges to getting Iraq's police, judges and prison officials up to speed.
The program has trained about 4,000 Iraqi mid-to-senior level legal officials — including 267 women — since 2005 but has a paltry annual budget of €22 million ($31.8 million).
"Some progress has been made, but of course still what remains in front of us are a lot of challenges," Diaz Alcantud told reporters. "There is room to still do more. We cannot train the whole staff of the Iraqi police."
Associated Press writers Lara Jakes and Saad Abdul-Kadir contributed to this report.