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[casi] An alternative course

An alternative course

As the US occupation flounders, the need for an Iraqi constitutive
conference abroad grows, writes Abdul-Amir Al-Rikabi*

Russia has called for an international conference on Iraq. The French
foreign minister backed the idea and the UN secretary-general, who initially
ruled it out, now views it favourably. The initiative is undoubtedly linked
to US mismanagement of Iraq. So far the Americans have come up with one
futile plan after another, the latest of which is a dubious scheme to
transfer power to the Iraqis. Now is the time for national and international
counter proposals.

Within the framework of the European Social Forum, a delegation of
representatives of Iraqi national forces has announced the formation of a
secretariat for the preparatory committee of the Iraqi Constitutive Council.
This move was not publicised by the media. Arab satellite stations and the
French press largely failed to report it. Yet Radio France dedicated its
editorial, on 15 November, to the proceedings of a press conference in which
a delegation composed of 11 Iraqi national figures announced the creation of
the secretariat. The press conference was held on 14 November and dozens of
journalists and public figures attended.

The French television news service LC1 also reported the event in its
newscasts and some European radio and television stations and newspapers
interviewed members of the delegation. Among these members were
representatives of democratic and Islamic forces, of the Turcoman and
Assyrian communities, nationalist figures, the Marxist left, as well as
three figures from inside Iraq, a considerable achievement considering that
when a delegation of the same forces met in Cairo with the Arab League
secretary-general late last month, five home-based Iraqi figures who were
supposed to join the delegation could not come.
The Iraqi nationalist current is seeking support for the creation of an
independent Iraqi national constitutive council. When we put the idea to
Secretary-General Amr Moussa we hardly needed to note its merits. The Iraqi
state has been destroyed. The invading forces have managed to decimate an
82-year-old modern state. In any comparable situation legitimate power would
be assumed by the representatives of the population, ie representatives of
the national, religious, doctrinal and social strands of the Iraqi people,
who would meet to formulate the basic laws, structure, and system of the

We explained to the Arab League secretary- general the need for the
constitutive conference to be completely independent from the pressures of
the invaders, an obvious condition for its legitimacy. The secretary-general
had no problem with the endeavour, but asked us to bring together all the
forces in favour of that proposal, saying that this would help the Arab
League rally support behind the effort. As head of the delegation I agreed.

During consultations with those participating in the delegation the view
emerged that extensive contacts with other Iraqi forces must be made
whenever and wherever this was possible. Several views were offered on the
best ways to facilitate this mission. Should we form a preparatory committee
for the Iraqi constitutive council right away? Or should we start with a
secretariat and give it two months to pave the way for the declaration of
the preparatory committee?

We eventually agreed to form a secretariat, the task of which is to contact
Iraqis living at home and abroad with a view to forming the preparatory
committee within two months. The secretariat does not have an easy task, for
those in Iraq will have to initiate meetings and contacts with all the
national forces there before naming candidates for the committee. Those
living abroad will also have to hold meetings, and perhaps an expanded
conference, to bring together all nationalists living overseas and name some
for the preparatory committee. The troubling course of events in Iraq has
rendered our mission particularly urgent. As Iraqis were debating in Paris
the merits of forming a preparatory committee or a secretariat, Paul Bremer,
faced with a desperate situation, was coming up with plans of his own. For
us this is an added incentive to call for an independent Iraqi constitutive

It is good that Russia chose this point in time to propose an international
conference on Iraq. The move, albeit overdue, will boost the position of
those who oppose US policy in Iraq. Even before the war started we, in the
Iraqi nationalist current, criticised the French, Russian, Chinese, and
Germans for failing to suggest such an initiative. In a press conference we
held in Paris, two months before the war, we declared an initiative based on
the principle of change-without-war, and called for the formation of an
international-Arab mechanism to foil Washington's schemes. However, France,
Germany, Russia, and China confined their opposition to the United Nations
and the UN Security Council, focussing on the nuances of international law
without adopting a political scheme based on the will of the Iraqis.

In the past few days Iraqi patriots living in Moscow contacted the Russian
Foreign Ministry to inquire about the Russian position concerning contacts
with Iraqi nationalist opposition groups. They asked specifically if
Russia's policy of not holding exchanges with Iraqi forces still stands. The
Russians made it clear that policy was ill-advised and going to change. Now
we have to wait and see how the Russians will respond to a request by a
delegation of Iraqi nationalists to visit Russia. The pointa, of course, is
not just to have contacts with the Russians, but to ascertain the
credibility of the Russian initiative. The timing is crucial for the US
political debacle in Iraq is worsening and the Americans are pursuing ever
tougher measures to subdue the Iraqis. The Americans, who have offered
nothing but dubious solutions, are silencing those who speak out in favour
of an independent Iraqi constitutive council.

The importance of working outside Iraq cannot be exaggerated. As things
stand the Iraqis will have to hold the constitutive meeting outside Iraq.
Such a move would reinforce the Russian initiative, which has the blessing
of France and the UN secretary-general. One has to keep in mind that such a
conference would garner support at home and would help the Iraqis challenge
the new schemes of the occupation.

The holding of an Iraqi constitutive conference will boost anti-occupation
endeavours. Action within the Iraqi and international arenas, however
different in approach, is complementary in nature. Direct meetings should
therefore begin between the representatives of these two endeavours. The
faster nationalist Iraqis get involved in international efforts, the greater
the chance that our people, at home and abroad, will be able to shake off US
hegemony. As Iraqi nationalists continue their bid to create a free and
representative regime in Iraq they need the support of the international
community and of all the forces that oppose US policy, wars of aggression,
and globalisation.

The occupation authorities have so far excluded others from the scene. Their
unilateral actions and policies run counter to national aspirations. To roll
back the occupation we have to seek other alternatives, chief of which is
the formulation of an independent constitutive council.

* The writer is an Iraqi opposition figure living in France.

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