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Analysis: Radio Free Iraq Interviews Fu'ad Ma'sum On Postponement Of Iraqi National Conference

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) this week interviewed the head of the preparatory committee for the Iraqi National Conference, Fu'ad Ma'sum. Ma'sum is a political-bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a former Iraqi Governing Council member. He announced on 29 July that the conference, at which delegates are expected to select a 100-member National Council to serve as a check on the interim government until elections in January, would be postponed until 15 August. He added that the United Nations will play an important role in the political process. A number of political groups have meanwhile accused conference organizers of not properly promoting the event and criticized the process of delegate selection (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 July 2004). This RFI interview by correspondent Jumana al-Ubaydi was originally broadcast on 3 August. Translation by Petr Kubalek.

Fu'ad Ma'sum: The [Iraqi] National Conference must reflect the situation in Iraq with respect to its segments and political movements, to the whole specter of them. That is why it must encompass the representatives of political movements, of political parties, of various social classes and groups....
RFI: Some parties have spoken out against the National Conference. What prompted their opposition?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: There are a number of parties, which I cannot count because we have not conducted any studies. However, this is apparently a question of the Association of Muslim Scholars, along with some representatives of the Arab nationalist movement and the al-Sadr movement. The dialogue with them is continuing. The attitude of some of them has been built on ideological grounds, or political grounds, so they apparently have a position that they can express and justify. For our part, we confirm that we desire their participation. They can speak and express themselves at the conference -- whatever they would like to state in front of this broadest assembly of Iraqi personalities and parties and in front of television cameras.
RFI: The United Nations has intervened in the question of the date for the Iraqi National Conference. Does this mean the UN will play a political role?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: The UN does play a role, because the UN Security Council resolution [No. 1546] has provided for that, especially in future elections. But the resolution is not [coming] in the sense of changing our resolutions or laws.
As for postponing the conference, there were at first some signals that we did not take into account. But when they [the UN] asked officially for their presence at the conference if it was postponed -- [adding] that they would not attend if it takes place at its [originally planned] date -- we evaluated both possibilities, both situations.
"If someone says that he [or she] does not know anything [about the conference], it means that the person neither reads newspapers nor follows the news."

As a result, the preparatory committee [of the Iraqi National Conference] has taken the decision to postpone the conference for two weeks because the attendance of the UN has for us a [special] importance, with special regard to [the fact] that the UN give legitimacy to this big, broad conference.
RFI: The al-Sadr movement -- or the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr along with the Association of Muslim Clerics -- has rejected the conference. They regard it as a form of occupation, saying it is [based on] nomination and not election. What is your comment on this condemnation?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: No, it is not a question of nomination. The conference is not [based on] a nomination. There were limited elections held in some provinces. The personalities [who will be] attending the conference were proposed as candidates by political parties and by well-known, respected personalities. Despite that, they had to pass some trials and filters before consensus was reached on the names [of delegates] who will be invited. Those are brilliant names from Iraqi society and political life.
RFI: Why is the Association of Muslim Clerics refusing to participate in the conference?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: They have and ideological attitude, and they [tell themselves] that their attitude originated in Islamic law.
RFI: Iraqi citizens have not been informed about either the Iraqi National Conference, its members, or about elections. How do you interpret that?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: I think that such a generalization, made in this way, is not possible. Because in all the provinces of Iraq you can find the posters that are now in Baghdad -- in all areas of Baghdad. These posters [announce] the conference and specify the date it will be convened. That is the first thing.
Second, you would have trouble finding a day when a newspaper, or rather four or five newspapers, are not writing about this conference.
So if someone says that he [or she] does not know anything [about the conference], it means that the person neither reads newspapers nor follows the news. It is true that [some] might have emerged from the previous regime with the idea that a campaign is repeated in all the media, day and night.
As for us, we have no media apparatus of our own, neither a television station nor a radio [station], so we have to rely on what is being delivered by Iraqi newspapers and also those [broadcasting] stations. And as for our [preparatory] committee, [we have prepared] those posters, which have become widespread in Iraq, as well as a website. Through the Internet, it is possible to get all information related to the conference.
RFI: Have I understood [correctly] from what you are saying, Dr. Fu'ad, that preparations for the conference that will take place on 15 August have reached their final stage, that there have been elections held in every province, and that 1,000 delegates have been chosen?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: No, the choice of 100 [sic] delegates is being done within the conference, inside the convention hall. It is going to happen there. It is not that the choice would be conducted now, in advance. The choice has to be done according to a procedure, a specific procedure, and the conference will convene at its [planned] time, God willing.
RFI: What will the portion of female representatives be at the Iraqi National Conference?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: At least 25 percent. They are present due to an appendix to the Transitional Administrative Law, and there are [currently] 19. Those will automatically enter the conference.
RFI: Do you have a concluding word that you would like to address to Iraqi citizens?
Fu'ad Ma'sum: The conference has its importance. It is the first step on the right path toward democracy. So I would wish that the conference implements what we long for and what we hope for.

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