Menu

ARCHIVE

Iraqi Opposition Leaders Convene in Northern Iraq

From the most radical communist to the most pro-American figures, Iraqi opposition members gathering here to discuss the country's future expressed deep reservations Saturday about reported U.S. plans for an Iraq after the potential ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Criticism of an American proposal to replace the Baghdad government with a U.S.-led military government runs deep and wide.

Many of the delegates assembling here also said they felt betrayed by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, which they perceive to be ignoring the Iraqi opposition.

"We don't think an American occupation will work," said Mowaffak al Rubaie, a Shiite Arab delegate to the opposition meeting expected to begin next week. "The people will see Mr. George Bush as an occupier. The people of Iraq will take to the streets. There will be rebellion," he said.

American postwar plans, first outlined to Kurdish opposition figures in Turkey this month, were presented at U.S. congressional hearings.

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman said in early February that the administration's plans include the "liberation" of Iraq -- not a long-term U.S. military occupation, and maintenance of the country's territorial integrity. A final goal will be elections based on a democratic constitution, he said, predicting that Americans would be in charge of Iraq for two years.

Even the traditionally pro-American Kurds, who run the autonomous northern enclave here under the protection of U.S. and British air patrols, have lashed out against the Americans because of reports the United States is considering a plan that would allow the Kurds' longtime enemy Turkey to send up to 80,000 troops into Iraq as part of the U.S.-led invasion.

"Its a nightmare for me to wake up and see Turkish tanks outside," said Nasreen Sideek Barwari, the U.S.-educated Kurdish reconstruction minister.

She says she's unable to visit her ancestral home at the northern edge of Iraq because of the Turkish military presence already there. "If they came here, there would be demonstrations. There would be resistance," she said.

Turkey, which appears ready to allow U.S. troops to launch an invasion of Iraq from Turkish territory, is demanding that its troops be allowed to go into northern Iraq to maintain stability.

Many Turks fear a war could prompt Iraqi Kurds to declare an independent state, which might encourage Turkey's own, restive Kurdish minority in their separatist goals.

At a news conference Saturday, representatives of Iraq's ethnic Turk and Christian minorities all voiced doubt about the U.S. plans.

"We would not support any military regime in Iraq, whether by Americans or anyone else," said Romeo Hakari, of the Assyrian Democratic Party, which represents some of Iraq's Christian community. "We would not like to replace the current regime with another general."

The Kurds say they would be willing to head into the mountains and actively fight any Turkish incursion, but have said they would only be constructively critical of any U.S. proposal to occupy Iraq.

Other opponents of the American plan warned that they would fight any long-term occupation. Such critics include the Kurdistan Communist Party, which polled 10 percent of the vote in Irbil municipal elections last year and has military bases in several northern Iraqi cities.

Shaphol Fathi Kareem, editor of Regai, the party's weekly newspaper, said the communists had fought for 30 years against the party that now rules Iraq.

"We're definitely, 100 percent ready to sacrifice more lives," he said.

At the fancy Chwar Chra Hotel, figures from a 65-member Iraqi opposition steering committee said they would defy what they perceived as U.S. slighting of the Iraqi opposition groups.

Delegates held a two-hour "exploratory meeting" Saturday afternoon in Salahuddin, before the oft-delayed conference, now slated to begin no sooner than Monday in the mountaintop stronghold of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which rules this section of the Kurdish autonomous area.

Iraqi opposition figures insist the meeting will not wind up declaring a provisional post-war government with ministerial titles.

"For now everything is in the air," said Husham Al Husainy, a Dearborn, Michigan-based Shiite Arab cleric and member of the 65. "We'll come down later and we'll determine who's taking what."