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Iraq considering shutting down Baghdad for summit

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 told AFP 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, told AFP in his office in the capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

He added that loyalists of now-executed dictator 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 put 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."

psr/bpz

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