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Analysis: Iraqi Political Groups Take Steps To Organize

Violence has sparked speculation that the January elections might be postponed (file photo) [For news, background, and analysis of events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's "The New Iraq" --> webpage.]

A number of Iraqi political groups have taken steps to organize ahead of the January elections despite numerous comments last week by government and UN officials who said that elections might be postponed due to increasing violence.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi worked to counter talk of a delay when he vowed on 20 September that the country will "definitely...stick to the timetable of the elections in January next year" during a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Some apparently disenchanted political groups, tribal leaders, and individuals sidelined for assembly seats in last month's Iraqi National Conference gathered in Beirut on 29 August to kick off what they termed a preparatory conference for the Iraqi National Founding Council. The chairman of the council, Abd al-Amir al-Rikabi, heads the Iraqi National Democratic Movement. Beirut's "Al-Safir" cited al-Rikabi in a 1 September report as saying that a 60-member preparatory committee was elected at the conference. The attendees were described as tribal chiefs, Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians, civil-society representatives, nationalist leaders, Nasirite and democratic parties, Islamic leaders, including Muslim Scholars Association members, and representatives of Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and reportedly claim to represent more than 6 million Iraqis. The preparatory committee called for the council to move its activities inside Iraq through the establishment of offices in Baghdad, Karbala, and Al-Basrah. Al-Rikabi reportedly said that the council intended to act as an "executive government" in Iraq, "Al-Safir" reported.

Conference attendees were apparently bound by the belief that Iraqis are being subjected to a formula set by the occupation that does not coincide with their vision for Iraq. Al-Rikabi voiced opposition to the former Iraqi Governing Council and interim government, saying that the Iraqi state -- but perhaps referring more specifically to the interim assembly -- does not fulfill the conditions of Iraq's national structure, especially its pluralistic nature. Conference attendees also advocated resistance against the occupation, saying it is a legitimate national and religious right. The conference was also attended by Socialist Progressive Party leader Walid Junblat, and representatives from the Lebanese Communist Party and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Iraq's two largest Islamic groups entered into discussions in early September about forging an alliance in preparation for the January elections, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 5 September. Leaders from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, reportedly met with representatives of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party on 5 September to discuss the possibility of merging the two parties into one current, SCIRI spokesman Rida Jawad Taqi said. Taqi added that SCIRI was also courting smaller Shi'ite groups, such as the Al-Fadilah Party, and an al-Sadr splinter group led by Muhammad al-Ya'qubi. A SCIRI-Da'wah alliance would arguably form the largest political grouping in Iraq and place the alliance in a strong position for the elections.

Al-Sadr's "Ishraqat al-Sadr" weekly published an article on 8 September calling on SCIRI and Al-Da'wah to include the "al-Sadr trend" in its alliance. "We demand that the leaders of SCIRI and Al-Da'wah Party hold negotiations with the leadership of the al-Sadr trend in order to work out a form that unifies the Shi'ite people and to ensure the victory of their unified list because we are heading toward an important stage -- the building of the new Iraqi state," the article said. The article is curious in that al-Sadr himself has on several occasions in recent months said that he has no interest in participating in the political process. He agreed in late August to take part in the process as part of a negotiated settlement to the standoff with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al-Najaf. However, he has made similar statements in the past, only to recant. London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 10 September that his movement was in the process of writing a "political program" that contained 25 articles addressing the political, economic, and social issues that he raised during his Friday prayer sermons in recent months. Al-Sadr aide Abu Zahra al-Nasiri told "Al-Hayat" that the decision of al-Sadr to join the political process scared many politicians who "are afraid of the popularity of this movement."

Three Sunni groups -- the National Front for Iraq's Tribes, the National Democratic Party, and the Iraqi National Movement -- organized a rally in Baghdad on 11 September calling on the Iraqi people to unify ahead of the January elections. It is unclear whether these groups will attempt to forge a political alliance ahead of that vote.
Three Sunni groups -- the National Front for Iraq's Tribes, the National Democratic Party, and the Iraqi National Movement -- organized a rally in Baghdad on 11 September calling on the Iraqi people to unify ahead of the January elections.

Meanwhile, two political groups last week discussed their platforms in the Iraqi press. Abd al-Muhsin Shalash, who heads the Free Iraqi Society Party, gave an interview to Baghdad's "Al-Manar al-Yawm," published on 14 September, in which he says that his group's unofficial stance is that it does not seek to participate to "any agency or congress that has come about through the occupation." Shalash contends that he was not invited to participate in the conference to elect an interim assembly. He claims his party remains neutral on a number of issues, adding that the party instructed him that "we should wait and ask God for his help" rather than take impulsive stands. His grouping encompasses some 30 political parties and supports peaceful resistance to the occupation.

Shalash says of the January elections: "The future shows us that the Iraqi people will be driven and directed within what is called the elections. They will take part in an operation called voting, but it will be like the marriage of a man to a woman he does not love. He walks together with her, holding her hand in front of the people.... But his heart is crying."

The group's political platform calls for a stable Iraq that respects all religions and ethnic groups and rejects the occupation and "all the laws and regulations that the people did not participate in forming." "We have a comprehensive political project that believes that change must come from within, not through foreign oppression," Shalash says.

The Iraqi Arab Socialist Movement published its political program in Baghdad's "Al-Jaridah" on 13 September. The group's platform is based on forging a national unity. The report claims that the interim government's ministries were set up based on a division along sectarian, national, and religious quotas, as was the appointment of ambassadors and deputy ministers. "Thus, everyone started to give allegiance to the different sectarian, ethnic, national, and religious groups and parties, and not to country, causing the national program to be absent." "The last chance that is open to our people and their national and democratic forces is finding representative institutions through free elections," the group contends.

The group says it is willing to "cooperate and form an alliance with all our people's national, Pan-Arab, and Islamic forces" in order to enter the election with a unified broad-based front that "expresses the interests of the broadest social sectors" of Iraqi society.

The Iraqi Arab Socialist Movement proclaims supports for political and religious freedom, freedom of the press, the return of the displaced to their homes and lands, support for Islam as the official religion, separation of the three branches of government, a condemnation of terrorism, and a national reconciliation program. It also calls for expanded labor laws, support for women's rights, social welfare, and free health care and education. It supports federalism and recognition of Kurdish and minority rights.

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