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Iraq: Reconciliation Conference Ends With Pledge To Move Forward

Iraqi President Talabani (Right) at the conference with Arab League head Amr Mussa on 20 November (AFP) Iraqi delegates to the three-day Arab League-sponsored meeting on national reconciliation in Cairo vowed on 21 November to undertake a series of trust-building measures ahead of a broader conference slated to be held in Baghdad early next year.

While the meeting promises to help move Sunni Arabs into the political process, it is unlikely to do much in terms of lessening the insurgency. Shi'ite delegates to the meeting refused to enter into any dialogue with Ba'athists or armed groups.

A Sellout?

The position of armed groups loyal to the deposed Ba'ath Party remains unclear. Ayham al-Samarra'i, who claims close relations with such armed groups, said last week that the groups would not lay down their arms "until peace and accord are established in the country." Al-Samarra'i also contended that armed groups would be willing to enter into talks with the United States, but not with the Iraqi government.

Sunni Islamist insurgents, whose ultimate goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, have no interest in entering into negotiations with the Iraqi government, which they view as illegitimate.

Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers) criticized the Cairo conference in a 20 November statement posted to the Internet on 21 November.

The statement called the conference a sellout sponsored by Arab states "which have been terrified by the spirit of jihad that runs through the [Arab community]."

"The goal is to drag Sunni Muslims into accepting the results of their filthy ‘political' game, and to surround the jihad project whose results have become clear and whose flags are looming on the horizon," the statement said. "As for the [Shi'ites] with whom they want us to hold dialogue, we will be tough when calling them to account. For they have made up their minds, unified their front, and declared war on monotheism [referring to the Sunni jihad movement] and its people.... The only possible dialogue between us and them is the dialogue of the sword and seas of blood which they will pay for the crimes they have committed."

Delegates said the Cairo meeting laid the groundwork for future talks, with all of them pledging to cease blaming one another and to not use religious, political, or media platforms to incite hatred or division.

In a closing statement delegates expressed their commitment to the unity, sovereignty, and independence of Iraq, and acknowledged that while resistance "is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism is not legitimate resistance," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.

Step Forward For Sunnis

For Sunni Arabs, the meeting served as a step toward achieving several of their demands. Most notably, the Iraqi government acknowledged Sunni Arab resistance as legitimate, but it stopped short of condoning it. "Even though resistance is a legitimate right for all peoples, terrorism is not legitimate resistance. We thus condemn terrorism and the acts of violence, murder, and abductions that target Iraqi civilians and civil, governmental, and humanitarian organizations, national wealth and houses of worship and call for confronting this immediately," the final statement said.

Sunni Arabs also obtained a commitment from the government for "the creation of a program to end the mission of the multinational forces" in Iraq. Government leaders, however, maintained after the conference that any pullout of multinational forces would be contingent upon the security situation in Iraq. "The troops' pullout depends on the security situation in Iraq and we are continuously training the Iraqi forces so that they can fill the vacuum left by the coalition forces once they leave the country," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters in Cairo on 21 November, RFI reported.

Delegates also agreed on the need to release "all innocent prisoners not convicted by a court" and to investigate all "allegations of torture and bring those responsible for [torture] to justice."

Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a member of the Muslim Scholars Association, a Sunni organization, told MENA that the association objected to the wording of the final statement, which identified Iraq as a democratic and federal. "Those added words would imply an approval of the content of Iraq's constitution, which the [association] has boycotted," al-Faydi told MENA.

Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari told Al-Arabiyah television on 21 November that the meeting "delivered a message to the entire world that Iraq has returned to its Arab fold by meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo."

A 70 Percent Solution

The conference appears to also have succeeded in carving out a greater role for the Arab League in Iraq's affairs, with the final statement calling on Arab states to establish a diplomatic presence in Iraq, forgive foreign debt, and provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid. For Sunni Arab league member states, the meeting's outcome signified an assurance on the part of Iraq's Shi'ite-led government that Iraq would not disavow its connection to the Sunni Arab world.

The final statement also called for the establishment of a preparation and monitoring committee comprised of Iraqi political forces, Arab League, and UN representatives. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told reporters in Cairo on 21 November that the conference succeeded "by 70 percent" in solving differences among the Iraqi powers and factions.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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