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http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/668/op5.htm 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 country. 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 conference. 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. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk