In hope of becoming Iraq's new leaders, key Iraqi opposition groups are meeting next week in London to map a strategy for post-Saddam Iraq, writes Salah Hemeid
Six Iraqi opposition groups say they are planning to meet in London from 13 to 15 December to discuss their role in post- Saddam Hussein Iraq should he be toppled by an American- led invasion. The meeting will take place under the auspices of the United States.
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A UN disarmament expert during a visit to the Agriculture Ministry compound south-east of Baghdad
Observers caution that the exiled Iraqi dissidents are too fragmented to reach a consensus on some of the major issues.
The opposition groups involved in the talks are the Constitutional Monarchist Movement, the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the pro-Iranian Shi'ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Each group claims to represent some of Iraq's major ethnic, religious, sectarian and political groups.
Hamid Al-Bayati, representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and a spokesman for the groups, said that around 300 delegates from more than 50 exiled Iraqi opposition groups and organisations were expected to attend. He said a preparatory committee had drafted working papers for the conference regarding the transitional period and future of Iraq. "We want a unified strategy on which to base a democratic, pluralistic and federal Iraq," he told Al-Ahram Weekly from his London office.
The conference was due to be held in the Belgian capital of Brussels in October but was cancelled because the Belgian government was unhappy about hosting a US- initiated seminar in light of the fact that the Security Council had committed itself to the weapons inspection programme.
The convention has had to be postponed on three occasions due to differences of opinion between the organisers, the differences mainly being the number of delegates and the conference agenda.
The organisers say they have worked out "a political discourse" or programme for a democratic, pluralistic federal political system to replace Saddam's regime. Yet not only is there internal conflict regarding who would be in charge in the case of a regime change, but pressure is also being brought to bear by US- backed independent dissidents who maintain they are not being sufficiently represented at the meeting.
The 100-page plan, dubbed the "democratic principle", was prepared by a working group of exiled Iraqi intellectuals and professionals brought together by the State Department. If, as widely expected, this plan is presented as the conference's centerpiece in opposition to the document compiled by the preparatory committee, Saddam's opponents will be divided even further.
Both groups are mutually critical. The independents accuse the opposition groups of adopting old-style politics and of dominating the effort to devise a strategy for post-Saddam Iraq. The group organising the conference, on the other hand, accuses the independents of being a small minority lacking in real authority within Iraq who simply want to impose their own views on the Iraqi opposition.
The 100-page plan, a copy of which obtained by the Weekly, envisions a future Iraqi government comprising exiled Iraqis and Kurds from northern Iraq.
While a post-Saddam assembly will be expanded to include Iraqis inside the country, the report proposes that the executive would be chosen in exile. Such a provisional government would last two to three years, and would then make way for elections and a new constitution.
The plan does not require the army to bear all responsibility for post-war security, saying that most officers are compromised by their ties to Saddam's regime. This role, it suggests, should be played by US troops and newly trained émigrés. The document also provides for a truth and reconciliation commission, a war-crimes investigation of Saddam and his inner circle, the elimination of all military courts and the creation of volunteer army reserves. The success of the plan would largely be based on military occupation for the first three to four months, during which time a US-led coalition would establish security throughout Iraq.
The opposition coalition resists this format. The Kurds want the paper to enshrine a federal democracy that would allow them to retain limited autonomy in northern Iraq. Fouad Masoum of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan told the Weekly that Kurds would retain their rights to reject any formula which does not meet their aspirations. The Supreme Council and other Shi'ite groups have expressed concern that certain points in the "democratic principles" paper seem to exclude Islamic-oriented factions from future Iraqi leadership.
Further disagreement is expected to emerge regarding the creation of a transitional body by conference delegates to assume power in the event of a change of regime. The opposing groups are in conflict regarding the leadership of the administration as well as the powers and responsibilities which would be assigned to it. Failure to resolve this issue could leave a dangerous power vacuum in post-Saddam Iraq.
US military preparations for possible war with Iraq are now in full swing and Washington is pressurising the opposition groups to stage a meeting. On Monday Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman were dispatched to London to talk to the opposition leaders and find a resolution for their disputes. Also on Monday, President Bush announced that he was naming Zalamay Khalilzad, his special envoy to Afghanistan, as ambassador at large for the "free Iraqis", a post in which he will oversee US cooperation with the opposition groups.