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Divisions Over Reconciliation Event

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Efforts to include of former Baathists and extremists in February peace conference fuel controversy. By Zaineb Naji in Baghdad (ICR No. 159, 20-Dec-05)


Iraqi leaders will hold a reconciliation conference in Baghdad early next year that many hope will help extricate Iraq from the present quagmire of violence. With daily attacks that are increasingly sectarian in nature, some believe the country could be on the brink of civil war.

An Arab League-sponsored conference that last month brought together rival Iraqi groups -- including many leaders who had never met before - set the stage for reconciliation, said many participants.

"We have been able to bridge gaps," said Yonadim Kanna, a national assembly member from the Democratic Assyrian Movement who attended the Cairo conference.

"It was a huge achievement to bring together the ruling powers and opposition political forces to discuss Iraq's situation and its political future," agreed Adil al-Bayati, a member of parliament for the Turkomen Islamic Party.

The Cairo conference drew more than 60 political and religious leaders who agreed that a timetable should be set for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, a major achievement for Sunni Arab groups that have demanded a US pullout since the occupation began in April 2003. It also declared that "resistance is a legitimate right of all peoples", but condemned terrorism.

Nearly all the major political factions took part in the Cairo gathering, including rivals such leaders of the Shia-dominated Dawa party and former Baathists from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose likely participation in the February conference - expected to address the occupation and other political grievances - remains controversial.

Although Baathists ended up attending the Cairo conference, the Dawa party chair and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari publicly criticised their presence. He may not wish to remain premier following the December 15 parliamentary elections if he has to share power with Baathists who are suspected of supporting attacks against his government. Sunni Arabs and former Saddam henchmen are believed to be leading the insurgency.

The Arab League is lobbying behind the scenes to include armed groups and former Baathists in the February talks - but this is being resisted by many prominent political figures.

"There will be wide participation, and [no group] will be left out except for those who committed war crimes during Saddam's era, terrorists and takfeeries [extremists]," said Kanna.

In the wake of the Cairo conference, there has also been concern that pledges by government parties to reduce counter-insurgency operations and release detainees have not been met.

"People are optimistic about reconciliation,” said Thair Juma, a political analyst in Baghdad. "But the government decisions did not follow the terms [decided on] in the conference. They have conducted arrests and military operations in the Sunni triangle."

Some, however, believe the Egypt conference should have done more to deal with the insurgency.

"The level of violence is not significantly different from what it was," said the Iraqi National Congress spokesman Haider al-Musawi. "There aren't real and tangible developments after the Cairo meeting."

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.
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Last modified 2006-01-04 05:53 AM

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