Behind the scenes, the summit was utter chaos, with the long-simmering mistrust between the Kurd-led Foreign Ministry and the Shiite-led Interior Ministry exploding into arguments over the slow issuing of badges, a lack of accommodations for hundreds of accredited journalists and hours-long convoy delays at checkpoints.
The manager of one of the conference hotels said the summit reeked of corruption. The hotel he oversaw had cost more than $20 million to renovate, but there was no way all that money had gone into the project, he said, pointing out the many imperfections. He said his company could've built an 800-room deluxe hotel in Dubai for that price.
"So where did all the money go? In the bellies!" he said with a laugh, patting his midsection for emphasis.
On social media platforms, Iraqi leaders were ripped as tasteless for serving VIP guests a dessert of dates dipped in 24-karat gold in a war-ravaged country where thousands of women were forced to sell off their gold to pay their husbands' and sons' kidnap ransoms.
On Baghdad streets, the reaction was more nuanced. Many Iraqis acknowledged the public-relations value of the summit and its goal of restoring the country's regional ties at a time when the Arab world is grappling with a wave of rebellions and conflicts.
"If the intentions of the summit were good, then maybe Iraq can stand on its feet again," said Bassam al Bahrani, 48, who lamented that sales in his clothing store had dropped 50 percent in the past two months. "Now that the Americans are gone, things should stabilize. There are no more excuses."
Sectarian and ethnic tensions still run deep, though, and politicians of all backgrounds said Maliki was resorting to heavy-handed, sectarian-based tactics to fend off attempts to weaken his grip. Iraqi politics are beset with entrenched internecine battles that continue to prevent any semblance of a unity government.
Just before the summit, Sunni politicians say, security forces swept through Sunni enclaves, rounding up hundreds of young men who've yet to be charged or released. The families are too scared to complain to the Shiite-led authorities.
The pattern of targeting or marginalizing young Sunni men left one of my Sunni colleagues debating whether to transfer her 18-year-old son to a school in a mixed-sect district so that the Shiite-dominated college selection boards wouldn't automatically dismiss his application as being from a Sunni neighborhood.
With sectarianism so institutionalized now, my friend said, it was doubtful that any of the government's halfhearted national reconciliation initiatives could blunt the leftover pain from years of civil war.
"It's like when trust is lost between husband and wife," she told me one night as our car was stopped at a checkpoint outside the Kadhemiya shrine. "You can try to patch it up, to make it better, but I doubt it will ever be whole again."
The day the conference ended, routes that had been scrubbed of Shiite iconography for the Sunni rulers' visit once again were adorned with posters of the militia commander Sadr or renderings of the revered imams Ali and Hussein. Even state properties — bus terminals, a train depot, for example — casually display Shiite flags or portraits, sending an unmistakable message to any Sunnis with business in those buildings.