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Analysis: France Pushes For Iraqi 'Opposition' Conference

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier recently issued a call in Paris for a conference to be held next month that would include members of the Iraqi "opposition." He said on 25 October that he wants another conference to be held alongside or following a 22-23 November international conference on Iraq in Sharm Al-Shaykh, Egypt, to take into account what he identified as "Iraqi political forces."

"If one is speaking about the democratic and political process in Iraq...this particular signal must be useful, and be used so that forces and groups that have used violence reject that violence -- so that all the groups, communities, and Iraqi political forces feel involved in some way or another," Radio France International quoted Barnier as saying. He also called for the conference to address the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

French officials first demanded in early October that Iraqi "resistance" forces be allowed to participate in the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference. Some Iraqi officials and media have contended that the French demand was made to help secure the release of two kidnapped French journalists who have been missing since late August.

Muhammad Bashir al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, welcomed the French proposal, calling it a step in the right direction, "Al-Ahali" reported on 20 October. Al-Faydi also said his Sunni group would await the outcome of the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference before it decides whether to participate in January elections. Association members have said on several occasions that they would boycott participation in January elections -- their motto is: "under occupation, elections cannot be held."

Al-Jazeera television interviewed three Sunni leaders on 24 October about their views on the resistance and its participation in next month's conference. Muslim Scholars Association leader Harith al-Dari said: "If we want to solve the Iraqi crisis then all sides must participate. The effective side that is now shuffling the cards day after day is the resistance." He contended that if the conference is organized to support a U.S.-interim government formula, rather than the French formula, "it will not be a genuine conference whose aim would be to rearrange the security conditions in Iraq." Iyad al-Samarra'i of the Iraqi Islamic Party voiced agreement with al-Dari, saying that the conference signifies a recognition by the United States that "it needs others to deal with the Iraqi impasse." "The Iraqi representation should not be confined to the [interim] government," al-Samarra'i said. "Other sectors and sides should be represented to a reasonable extent."
"How can we be reassured that such a conference will be fair, accurate, and constructive to Iraq when the Iraqi nationalist voice is absent from the conference?" -- Iraqi politician

Al-Jazeera asked both men who would represent the "resistance" at the conference, since its leadership is clandestine. Both said that the resistance would appoint political figures who "sympathize" with their cause to represent the resistance groups at the conference. The third participant, independent politician Salah Umar al-Ali, referred to the resistance as "the primary side concerned with Iraqi events," adding that "one of the strangest developments" was that the resistance was not asked to participate in the conference. "How can we be reassured that such a conference will be fair, accurate, and constructive to Iraq when the Iraqi nationalist voice is absent from the conference?" he asked.

Prime Minister Allawi made no mention of the possibility of resistance forces attending the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference in his 26 October weekly address to the National Assembly. And, while he highlighted the issues that will top the conference's agenda (security, reconstruction, and the biased coverage of foreign media outlets that glorify the terrorist acts of the "resistance"), he made no mention of the French proposal to address the withdrawal of multinational forces.

A number of Iraqi figures have, however, commented in recent weeks on the French proposal regarding the participation of the "resistance" at Sharm Al-Shaykh, expressing outrage at the possibility that terrorist groups be allowed to sit at the table with world leaders, or be considered as representatives of Iraq.