Planning for life after Saddam: 50 opposition groups - and the US

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  • Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 10:32:17 +0000 (GMT)

Conference delegates vie for political role in new

They came, deep in discussion, often arm-in-arm, along
the narrow corridor to the conference arena: a
beturbanned Shia cleric in flowing brown robes
debating Saddam's war crimes with a sharp-suited
former general of the Republican Guard; a Kurdish
rebel in cummerbund and baggy trousers mulling the
finer points of federalism with a leader of Iraq's
Turkoman community. 
Then came the dapper figure of Zalmay Khalilzad, an
American of Pashtun-Afghan origin who is President
Bush's newly-appointed envoy to "free Iraqis," flanked
by crew-cropped heavies whispering agitatedly into
their lapels. They were followed by a gaggle of
"diplomatic observers" and earnest-looking human
rights activists. 

Inside the hall at London's Metropole hotel, more than
300 delegates representing 50 groups, all claiming to
be the real voice of the Iraqi people, called for a
democratic, pluralist, and possibly federal, future
for their country. 

On the rain-splashed Edgeware Road, small groups of
demonstrators struggled to raise their voices above
the traffic and each other to denounce the proceedings
as either a tool of western imperialism or as an
unholy congress of infidels, depending on whether they
belonged to the Iraqi Communist Workers Party or the
Islamist Hizbut Tahrir. "Welcome to the future of
Iraq," said a clearly delighted Sunni Arab delegate, a
defector from the ruling Ba'ath party. "If anyone
doubted Iraqis' commitment to freedom of speech, and
diversity, then all this proves them wrong." 

The purpose of the three-day meeting, which ends
today, is to unite the notoriously fractious Iraqi
opposition around a common political platform for a
post-Saddam future. Many of those present say it is
their big chance to put their house in order before an
American attack on Baghdad. Indeed, the gathering
assumes that the overthrow of the Iraqi president is a
done deal. 

Delegates were working late into the night to agree a
set of principles for a "new Iraq" and appoint a
coordinating committee which will act as the official
voice of the Iraq opposition. The committee will
comprise some 40 to 50 members, "It will represent all
Iraq but will not constitute a government in exile,"
stressed Hoshyar Zebari of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party, one of the two groups controlling the Kurdish
enclave in northern Iraq. "That would send the wrong
signals to those currently in Iraq who will take part
in the country's future." 

It is clear that difficult decisions over the precise
charac ter of a new government, its people and
personalities, are being left to a later date. Hamed
Al Bayati, a member of the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which represents the
country's Shia majority, said: "We all hope this will
be the last major gathering of Saddam's opponents that
takes place in exile. The next one should be in a
liberated Baghdad." 

The road to this conference has been a long and
troubled one. Clashing political priorities and
personal rivalries among the main oppostion groups
have been exacerbated by infighting among American
officials over which figures and groups to support. 

One of the highlights so far has been the address by
the only woman delegate invited to speak. Safia Al
Suhale is perhaps a fine symbol for a future Iraq. A
Shia Arab who is married to a Sunni Kurd, she has
given her son both a Kurdish and an Arabic name.
Surveying the hall, she regretted the absence of women
and said any new Iraq would be meaningless unless
women were allowed to play a role. Even the bearded
clerics applauded. 

But the suspicion is that the real decisions are being
made behind closed doors. Though conference organisers
were eager to stress the "observer role" of the
Americans, Zalmay Khalilzad spent much of the day
receiving visitors in his rented suite. "We are not
dictating what is going on at the conference, merely
putting forward our point of view," said one US

Some delegates were less than happy. "Everything
should be out in the open," said Dr Mahmoud Osman a
veteran independent Kurdish politician. "That is what
democracy is really about. And that is how we should
be behaving. Otherwise Saddam has nothing to fear." 

Source:  The Guardian

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  • » Planning for life after Saddam: 50 opposition groups - and the US