The Secret of Iraqi Opposition Politics

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Posted by andreas from ( on Thursday, October 03, 2002 at 4:52PM :

The Secret of Iraqi Opposition Politics

Quoted from below:

"Exile politics is about trying to find a patron. Once you have one, you can say all kinds of things to your patron that may not bear much relation to reality," says Charles Tripp, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London."

What explains a lot of the muppet stunts the guys like e.g. Albert Yelda, Yonadam Kanna (--> historical fox interview) and possibly also Kamber are pulling.

Insofar they have a rather tragical role.
Not their fault, but they should be open on that towards their own people.

Financial Times

Rebuilding Iraq

By Roula Khalaf and Stephen Fidler
Published: October 2 2002 20:05

On a pleasant late summer evening in the lobby of a quiet hotel in a suburb outside London, a group of Iraqis are discussing what happens after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. They are exiled lawyers, doctors, academics and former military officers from Iraq's disparate religious and ethnic communities, brought together by the US State Department.

The meeting is part of the Future of Iraq project. To the extent that Washington is planning for the post-Hussein era, it is at gatherings such as this.

The Day After has long preoccupied Iraq's neighbours and governments outside the region, who fear civil strife could splinter the country into Kurdish, Shia and Sunni parts.

"What sort of Iraq do we wake up to after the bombing and what happens in the region? What impact would it have? These are questions leaders I have spoken to have posed," said Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, last month.

Opponents of the regime in Baghdad have long been dismissed as more interested in fighting one another than Mr Hussein. But, in the discussions outside London there is civility and, it seems, common ground. The possibility of regime change appears to have concentrated minds.

At this meeting, there appears to be an almost unanimous view that dictatorship must be replaced, possibly after a transition of up to two years, by a government that keeps the country united but reflects its ethnic and religious diversity.

Some see this as best achieved by creating a federal state, giving the Kurds in northern Iraq autonomous status. Others argue for a Lebanon-style model, with top posts are divided among the three largest communities - Shias, Sunnis and Kurds - with a parliament based on a quota system.

But getting there will not be easy, given Iraq's violent history and the score-settling that could follow decades of repression.

The State Department project comprises 15 working groups, meeting since July on issues as diverse as the rule of law and war crimes, democracy, public finances and banking, and agriculture. They will issue recommendations to the political opposition, scheduled for Brussels late this month.

Yet such discussions have limitations. "Exile politics is about trying to find a patron. Once you have one, you can say all kinds of things to your patron that may not bear much relation to reality," says Charles Tripp, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Even members of the opposition agree they are unlikely to lead a future Iraq. "The groups who are really eligible to talk about these things are inside Iraq," says Nouri Badran, a participant. "They are the institutions of the country, the army, the Ba'ath party, civil servants and the tribes."

Once military operations begin, he predicts, the opposition will be re- defined as domestic groups emerge with more credibility than the exiles.

US officials say they recognise the limitations of the project and do not aim to replicate the process by which a transitional administration formed in exile took over in Afghanistan.

According to Latif Rashid, a leading opposition figure, the growth of the Iraqi diaspora may mean there are now more than 1,000 exile groups around the world. Though the US has started discussions with exiles who may be able to help a US-led military campaign, most US work is now being done with the so-called Group of Six, the leaders of which met top administration officials in Washington in August.

Among the six, only three can claim real representation in Iraq and two of them are backed by Iran, hardly Washington's ideal partner. These three are the Kurdistan Democratic party of Massoud Barzani, a leader who has cleverly managed to maintain ties with Baghdad and Washington and to play them them off against each other; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talabani, who maintains close relations with Iran; and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shia group headed by the Tehran-based Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim.

With an estimated 30,000 trained fighters - who are known as peshmerga - the Kurds can be expected to play a military role in the overthrow of the Iraqi regime. Their enclave in northern Iraq, which has allowed them to exercise control for a decade, is likely to act as a base for US-led forces.

The two main groups have found it hard to get on; their rivalry escalated into violent clashes in the mid-1990s. This has alarmed Washington, whose efforts to reduce tension have produced an agreement to hold a session of the joint Kurdish parliament on Friday.

The Kurds' main concern is to consolidate the autonomy they have won, under western protection, since the 1991 Gulf war. "A war is a gamble for us but today we have institutions in place, universities, unions - tangibles, political parties, governments, infrastructure," says a senior Kurdish official. "Our hand is strong now, as opposed to 1991. It's impossible to reverse these gains."

The other group with military capabilities is Sciri, which can count on about 10,000 guerrillas, all based in Iran. Although less so than the Kurds, Sciri also can credibly claim a domestic following, largely based on the religious credentials of the ayatollah. "But there is a debate about how representative Sciri is; and there are many other Islamist groups around," says a western diplomat who follows the opposition. "There's a feeling that it's too subservient to Tehran and there's a worry that its vision of a state is one run by Hakim. The other Islamists see a state guided by Islamic law but with a secular government."

The rest of the Six are of a different breed; debate on their relative merits has created deep divisions even inside Washington. Most prominent is the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group formed in 1992 that has since fragmented but still nominally includes the two Kurdish groups.

Its main relevance today is that it is led by Ahmad Chalabi, a suave US- educated former banker who some say persuaded Washington to adopt regime change as policy.

Mr Chalabi comes from a wealthy Shia family that left Iraq after the 1958 coup that overthrew the monarchy. He was instrumental in the behind the scenes manoeuvring that gave birth to the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which allocated $97m to the opposition. D4 But Mr Chalabi is little known inside his own country. He is unpopular with others in the exiled opposition. Well liked by some conservatives in the Pentagon, he lacks credibility with the CIA and the State Department. "He's a classic Greek tragic figure, his strength is also his weakness," comments a US official. "He's charming and charismatic and so good at winning over people but in so doing he also deceives himself."

The INC's weight has been boosted by the inclusion in the Six of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, a small organisation led by Sharif Ali bin AlHussein, a descendant of the Hashemite monarchy that once ruled Iraq.

Mr AlHussein is an eloquent speaker with a Sunni background, adding that ethnic element to a heavy Kurdish and Shia mix. The aspirations for a return of the monarchy espoused by his organisation, however, may be more relevant to exile politics than within Iraq.

At the CIA and the State Department, officials appear to have better relations with Ayad Allawi, the articulate head of the Iraqi National Accord. Once a dedicated student Ba'athist who turned against the regime after moving to Britain in the 1970s, Mr Allawi, also a Shia, suffered a near-fatal axe attack at his London home at the hands of Iraqi agents in 1978.

His group claims to have a following within Sunni Ba'athist and military ranks inside the regime and it has developed relations with Arab governments. But what was to be its biggest achievement - an attempted 1996 coup against Mr Hussein - turned into a fiasco when Mr Hussein uncovered the plot and eliminated the INA activists.

The divisions between these groups have been exacerbated by infighting between the State Department, CIA and Pentagon over the Iraqi opposition. Recognising it has contributed to the rivalries, the US administration is making a so-far imperfect effort to bury its own differences, or at least make them less public.

Yet whether exiles play a role in Iraq's future will depend more on how Mr Hussein is toppled, how a military campaign turns out and whether the US decides that regime change requires an overhaul of institutions such as the army, which has nearly half a million members, and the Ba'ath party, with a membership of 2m.

Some exiles argue that these institutions must not be alienated in a military campaign. Instead, they should be co-opted and offered a role in a future government, even if this constrains democratic aspirations.

But then, what is the role for the exile groups? "You'll have a country in dire need of stability and meeting the immediate needs of the population on the one hand; on the other you'll have groups hungry for power and their number is increasing as the mirage of regime change becomes real," says Laith Koubba, an Iraqi exile living in Washington. "You cannot have stability only through the exile groups because they're not up to it. But you can't have stability without them because they're there."

Mr Koubba advocates a plan that would include the exiled opposition in a mainly advisory capacity during the transition, though not in an executive or leadership role.

Wafic al-Samarrai, former head of Iraqi military intelligence, says there is a possible role for the six groups, as long as they join with groups inside Iraq. He adds: "Taking a government from outside and putting it inside would be wrong . . . the people inside would see it as an alien government."

A senior US official puts the point more succinctly: "Our imposing one person on them is the sure way of ensuring a brief tenure for that person."

-- andreas
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