Sunni militants continue to show muscle. Last week, they staged near simultaneous attacks on eight cities that killed 46 and wounded more than 200. They also feel confident enough to intimidate residents into paying protection money in some Sunni areas, like Mosul, Iraq's third largest city.
The owner of an aluminum factory there says he pays up to $300 every month to armed militants. Failure to pay, he claims, can mean forced closure of his business or death.
"It seems like we are living in a country run by the mafia," said the businessman, who refused to give his name because he feared reprisals. "We don't know who's running the country. Is it the government or al-Qaida?"
In Baghdad, away from the airport and the summit venue on the west bank of the Tigris River, concrete barriers surround government buildings, hospitals and schools. Iraqi security forces continue to conduct door-to-door searches across most of the city. According to the U.N. refugee agency, more than 1.3 million Iraqis remain internally displaced until today, unable or unwilling to return to their areas of origin because of sectarian tensions.
Services in this potentially oil-rich nation remain erratic at best, with most of the population relying on private power generators for electricty. Many neighborhoods have sewage running in open canals in the street and seeping into drinking water.
Because of fears of violence, al-Maliki's government sets aside heavy resources — nearly $15.5 billion this year, around 15 percent of the entire budget — for security and defense.
Iraq has been keen to host the summit in part to show the world it has emerged from its years of turmoil and to ease its way back to an Arab world that has been wary of its close ties with Iran.
Still, Baghdad does not want to hurt its relationship with Iran, a major source of economic aid.
"Again, al-Maliki is performing a balance act here: keeping economic support to Assad's regime while respecting Arab League resolutions on Syria," said political scientist Kadhum al-Muqdadi.
Associated Press reporters Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer. N. Yacoub contributed to this report.
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