|Exiles squabble over key post-Saddam
By Charles Recknagel
PRAGUE - The exiled Iraqi opposition is finally
holding its first meeting on Iraqi soil as it attempts
to carve out a key place for itself in any post-Saddam
Hussein Iraq. The gathering brings together leaders from
almost all of the exiled opposition groups and special
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Kurdish-controlled northern
Iraq. The proceedings are expected to end on the
weekend. They are taking place in a fortified compound
near the city of Arbil, protected by Kurdish militiamen
and US diplomatic security personnel.
meeting began, Iraqi opposition leaders lost no time in
expressing their key concerns to Khalilzad. The first is
the mounting fear that the United States is sidelining
them as it makes its own plans to set up an occupation
government following any war with Baghdad. The exiled
opposition had hoped to be the nucleus of any
post-Saddam Iraqi administration.
who heads the London-based secular Iraqi National
Congress (INC), an umbrella group for the Iraqi
opposition, told the meeting in opening remarks that
Iraqis, not foreigners, must govern the country. "We
welcome the US as a liberator and call upon the US to
respect the Iraqi people and the sovereignty of the
Iraqi people," Chalabi said.
He added that the
opposition wants a partnership with Washington based on
what he called mutual respect and mutual independence.
"We want to build a long-standing partnership with the
US based on friendship and mutual respect and interests
and on respect of mutual independence in making
decisions. We want to be friends and partners with the
US in the world," Chalabi said. Khalilzad sought to
reassure the opposition leaders that the United States
has no desire to govern Iraq in the long term. But he
said nothing to contradict strong signals from
Washington that a US military official will administer
Iraq in the short run.
Leaks to the US media
from top officials suggest that Washington envisages an
18-month military occupation in which a US commander
would run the country in close cooperation with a
civilian administration. It is not known whether the
civilian administration would be appointed by the United
States or the United Nations or whether there would also
be a transitional Iraqi government along the lines of
that in Afghanistan.
While skirting the issue of
Washington's immediate plans, Khalilzad did say that
"the decision of who ultimately governs Iraq is a
decision for the Iraqi people ... Iraqis should be free
to choose their own [form of] government, be it
parliamentary or presidential, and to choose the form of
relationship between its center and the regions,
including federalism," Khalilzad said.
added that the exiled Iraqi opposition alone might not
be sufficiently representative of all the Iraqi people
to form any new administration by itself. "Along with
the great respect that we have for our friends in the
Iraqi opposition, we also have a great respect and
sympathy for the many Iraqis who have been suffering
inside the country under the Saddam Hussein regime,"
That may have been a signal that
Washington will insist upon broadening any Iraqi role
during the transition period to include political
figures who have remained inside Iraq, as well as those
who have opposed Saddam from abroad.
conference's opening day, Kurdish leaders called on
Washington to ensure that Turkish forces do not enter
Kurdish-held northern Iraq as part of any US-led war
with Baghdad. The Kurds fear that to win Ankara's
approval for using Turkey as a staging area for US
troops, Washington will agree to Turkish demands that
Kurdish autonomy be sharply limited. Ankara fears that
too much autonomy for Iraqi Kurds could incite its own
restive Kurdish minority to demand similar rights.
Mas'ud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) - one of the two main Iraqi Kurdish factions
- told the conference that "any regional intervention in
the internal affairs of Iraq will cause instability". He
added: "We call on the United States to prevent any
regional intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq."
Khalilzad was later quoted as telling reporters
that any Turkish troops entering the north of Iraq would
be fully coordinated with the US-led coalition and not
acting independently. Beyond sounding out Khalilzad
regarding Washington's plans for a post-Saddam Iraq, the
exiled opposition hopes during its meeting to name a
leadership council to coordinate future activities.
The main opposition groups taking part in the
meeting are the INC, the KDP, the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan - the other main Kurdish faction - and the
Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in
Iraq, which is a Shi'ite group.
are two other opposition groups: the monarchist
Constitutional Monarchy Movement and the secular Iraqi
National Accord, which has ties to disaffected members
of Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party in the military. No
immediate reason for their absence has been given, but
the Iraqi exiled opposition movement regularly splits
over leadership disputes. These disputes hamper attempts
to strengthen cooperation among its member groups.
(©2003 RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission
of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW,
Washington, DC 20036.)