IRAN TORPEDOING THE LONDON CONFERENCE OF IRAQI OPPOSITION

By Safa Haeri

LONDON 16 Dec. (IPS) Iraqi opposition groups meeting in London ended their three days debate on Monday, but accused the Islamic Republic of Iran of "torpedoing" the meeting using the surrogate Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI).

Sources at the conference said participants had agreed on the important issues, but would they would extend the talks for another day, giving enough time to the delegates to present the names of their representatives to the follow up and presidential committees.

Mr. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the junior partner and rival of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurd’s main political formation led by Mas’ood Barzani, announced the decision at a news conference held in the Metroploe Hotel.

Conference sources blamed the Tehran-based SAIRI for the delay, revealing to Iran Press Service that the group wanted at least 13 members at the "Follow up and Coordination Committee", which would be responsible for a post-Saddam Hoseyn Iraq foreign relations as well as to liase between the opposition groups.

"We are afraid that the conference is being held at ransom because of rivalries between the Islamic Republic (of Iran) and the United States, which has organised the meeting in close cooperation with Britain", one informed delegate said, as Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush’s special envoy for Iraq and other American observers were trying hard to broker an end to differences over the proposed FCC.

The 350 delegates from 50 different groups, organisations, individuals and ethnics agreed late last night on a blueprint, proposing the creation of a "federal, democratic and parliamentary" system while refusing any "foreign guardianship" during the proposed two years "transition period" once the present regime and its ruthless dictator, Saddam Hoseyn, deposed.

The document recognises officially that the Iraqi Msulim Shi’ites, who form the majority of the population, have suffered official discrimination and had beeen excluded from the government.

It also accepted that all Kurds who have been forced to evacuate their villages by the ruling Ba’th Party could back to their homes in the one hand and on the other, the Kurds would control oil-rich city of Kerkook.

Unhappy at the creation of a "new Afghanistan" in its western borders, Iran of the ayatollahs is using the SAIRI to torpedo the London meeting, the largest ever organised by Iraqis opposed to Saddam Hoseyn, as some delegates confirmed that the SAIRI claimed control of 13 of the 50 proposed for the Follow Up Committee.

"Hakim more or less is trying to apply the Iranian model to Iraq", Mostafa al Qwazani, an Iraqi exile Shiite cleric living in Los Angeles told the United Press International agency UPI.

"Everyone agreed to submit names, except the SCIRI delegates who said they needed to consult the Iranian government", one delegate revealed, but Mr. Nabil Moosawi, a coordinator for the conference and chief diplomat for the US-backed Iraqi National Congress of Mr. Ahmad Chalabi said the experts could "work through this obstacle", adding that delegates were working on the list of names for a 50-person committee.

SAIRI, the PUK, the KDP and some former members of the Ba’th Party, forming the "Group of Four" are opposed to the INC and the Constitutional Monarchist of Prince Ali Ben Sharif Hosseyni.

An informed source told IPS that late Sunday night and after he learned of the SAIRI’s demands, Mr. Khalilzad warned "all delegates" that either they could come reach agreement or they would be left to their own, the United States would push with its own policies for after Saddam, meaning the nomination of an American general as Governor.

"Actually, without such a guardianship, be it by the US or the United Nations, I don’t see how the people here at this conference could govern Iraq, for, regardless of their professions of democracy, multipartism and human rights, they hate each other, above all the Arabs and the Kurds and the Shi’a and the Sunnis who make the Iraqi mosaic", one Iraqi political analyst observed, adding: "Do you seriously think that the Afghans could maintain relative peace without the presence of the Americans and the international community in Kabol?’

U.S. officials attending the conference expressed reservations about giving an organization they believe may be too influenced by Iran such a large bloc of votes within a newly reconstituted Iraqi opposition.

In meetings with the Iraqis, Khalilzad suggested including groups not tied to SAIRI or its leader in the Shi’ite voting bloc, the UPI reported.

Along with five other opposition groups, SAIRI is eligible for $92 million assistance for military training recently approved by President Bush. The funds were initially allocated in the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act. ENDS IRAQI OPPOSITION STALLED 161202