Seeking the spirit of unity: a London meeting of representatives from Iraqi Opposition groups illustrated that simply getting rid of Saddam will not be enough to put Iraq back on the road to recovery.

Author:Owen, Tom

On 13-17 December Iraqi opposition groups got together in London to discuss what to do about the forthcoming and near-certain US attack on their country. The Americans kept a close eye on four long days and nights of inter-faction talks. Having declared publicly that `regime change' is the aim of the coming Iraqi war, the Americans are faced with a whole range of contingencies. But one thing is for sure: if a stable Iraq is to emerge after Saddam's fall, close cooperation with internal opposition groups is required. And there's the rub. Iraq's exiles are classics of the type, prone to infighting and squabbles, with no one group realistically able to speak for the whole of Iraq. The London conference was attended by 300 delegates, representing 50 groups, with 150 of the delegates representing no group in particular, and billed as `independents'. And although the US tried to keep its involvement in the organisation of the conference as low key as possible, it was clearly a driving force in the framing and steering of debate, in the person of Zalmay Khalil Zad, President Bush's special envoy. Although the conference in fact failed to address some of the most contentious issues between the groups, it did satisfy US officials, according to a European diplomat, inasmuch as it demonstrated a basic, broad level of acquiescence by the Iraqi opposition towards a US attack, strengthening the US position internationally.

The conference nonetheless achieved some thing. It endorsed a document forseeing a future democratic Iraqi federation of Kurdish and Arab nationalities, and underlined the indivisibility of the present state. A second document provides for a two-year post-war interim administration, followed by elections and a constitutional referendum. A 65-strong `follow-up and arrangement' committee will carry these agreements forward, and controversy over the make-up of this committee provoked walkouts by a handful of obscure opposition groups. This committee scheduled a meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq during January. Nonetheless, it does not amount to a government-in-exile, rather a framework for exiled opposition groups to cooperate with leaders currently within the country.

The Iraqi National Congress (INC) claims to represent all ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, but this is a dubious claim and given limited popular support within the country. According to its own statements, the INC `presents a credible political alternative for...

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