The agreement between the interim Iraqi government and the Arab League to exclude certain Iraqi factions from the Cairo conference has triggered widespread resentment among some Iraqis.
Members of the Kurdish-Shia dominated Iraqi government insist that the government should have the final say in recommending the individuals who will participate in the meeting on 19 November.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari even made a condition on Sunday that the participation of “terrorists and Baathists” is a red line he is not prepared to cross.
“The Iraqi government has put its conditions and specified the red lines,” he said.
“If the conference is going to carry the nationalistic requirements, we will participate distinctively.”
Hoshiyar Zebari, the interim foreign minister and member of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), said the Iraqi government and the Arab League were in harmony about who was going to participate.
“We welcome to the conference those who believe in the political process. Those who adopt violence to destroy the government like Baathists, takfiryin (orthodox Muslims who see Shia sect as heresy) and extreme Salafists (Taliban style Muslims), will have no place in the conference,” Zebari said.
The Cairo conference is a preparatory one, aimed at bringing the position of Iraqi parties closer before holding the final national reconciliation conference in Baghdad late this year or early in 2006.
The Arab League is to be
Ahmad al-Najdawi, a Baath Party member in Jordan, described as untenable al-Jaafari’s demand for excluding “terrorists and Baathists”, saying Baathists could not be wiped out from the Iraqi scene.
“The Baath party is not something incidental in Iraq. This party waged three revolutions in Iraq in the 20th century,” he told Aljazeera.net.
“Al-Jaafari cannot do that. But the problem is he and his peers who came to Iraq on the American tank are taking advantage of US protection.
“We say to him, tell the Americans to go out of Iraq and then we will see if he will have the guts to talk about the Baath Party like this.”
The Iraqi Shia authority Shaikh Jawad al-Khalisi told Aljazeera.net that his movement had agreed to attend the conference but their decision was being reconsidered.
“We agreed in the beginning, but two things happened lately that forced us to review our agreement,” he said.
“First, the request by the Iraqi government to extend the mandate of the occupation forces by another year. How could they do this without discussing it in the parliament?”
“The Baath party is not something incidental in Iraq. This party waged three revolutions in Iraq in the 20th century”
“Second, after the recent attacks on our brothers in western Iraq, how could we sit with a government that is slaughtering our fellow Iraqis,” Shaikh al-Khalisi said.
Harun Muhammad, an Iraqi former member of the pan-Arab movement and now independent political analyst, says the problem of those governing Iraq is that they lack the qualities of statesmenship.
“What do they think the meaning of a reconciliation conference is? They think it is just an expanded meeting for the government and its supporters? Why don’t they want the resistance to be there?” he said.
“Well, I have the answer; they do not want the resistance to be there, because they know very well that they (resistance) are true Iraqi Arab nationalists and they will not be able to compete with them.
Everybody in Cairo conference will find himself with no option but to respect and listen to the voice of true nationalism.”
League to blame
Liqaa Makki, an Iraqi political analyst, said the Arab League was the party to be blamed, not the Iraqi government.
“The Iraqi government wants to protect its authority and grip on power, which is natural; but the League is supposed to be an Arab umbrella. Why is it so obliging with the demands made by Iraqi officials?” he told Aljazeera.net.
Hisham Yusuf, an official at the Arab League secretary- general’s office, told Aljazeera.net that the political process was binding and should not be opposed.
Yusuf says Iraqi political process
He said on 28 June 2004 the US-led occupation forces handed over the sovereignty to Iraqis, and that had been approved by the UN.
Yusuf agreed that it is not an easy job to bring those who oppose the foreign presence in Iraq to the table, because they have not yet developed political bodies to represent them.
“The problem with the Iraqi resistance is they do not have political representation. Who will represent them? Have they introduced their political wing?
“However, we agreed with the Iraqi government that those involved in violence against Iraqi civilians and members of the former government (of Saddam Hussein) are not allowed to participate,” he said.
Yusuf stressed that no Iraqi political party should be allowed to impose its view on the conference, saying: “There are some parties in Iraq unwilling to communicate with others and exchange views.”
Yusuf continued: “For example, the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS). They have submitted a very useful proposal, but we cannot deal with it as the sole solution.
“The AMS must realise that it is one of the parties on the ground and not the only party, and we really appreciate their views.”
“The AMS must realise that it is one of the parties on the ground and not the only party, and we really appreciate their views”
Arab League official
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa met during his visit to Iraq last October Shaikh Harith al-Dari, secretary-general of the AMS.
The association set conditions for a national reconciliation conference that the league seeks to organise with Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups.
The principal Sunni Arab religious group in Iraq said that before talks could begin, a calendar for the withdrawal of foreign forces must be established, according to a statement released after the meeting.
There will be several parties at the Cairo conference who will fight to include the anti-US groups in the final conference in Baghdad, but the facts on the ground provide no guarantees that they will succeed in their mission.