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Iraq: Arab League Prepares National Accord Conference

Mukhtar Lamani speaking to RFI in Baghdad on May 28 (RFE/RL) Arab League envoy to Iraq Mukhtar Lamani spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in Baghdad on May 28. Lamani discussed plans for the upcoming league-sponsored Iraqi national accord conference.

RFI: What can you tell us about the Iraqi national accord conference, planned by the Arab League to take place in Iraq?

Mukhtar Lamani: A large conference of national accord will be held in Baghdad June 20-22. Of course, the Cairo conference [on Iraqi national reconciliation, held in November 2005] was a great achievement for several reasons. First of all, the secretary-general [of the Arab League, Amr Musa,] successfully managed during the conference to bring together Iraqi groups that would never have met before that conference.

He also managed to lead all of them to an agreement on a final statement. This final statement included a clause providing that the conference was preparatory and a program [for a national accord conference to follow] was set. As you know, the national accord conference was to be held in March. But because of circumstances obvious to everyone -- related to the formation of Iraqi government and the long time the formation has taken -- this conference was postponed to the date that I have mentioned. There has been an agreement on its program. Not all groups agreed on updating this program so that it takes into account all the developments that have happened [since the conference in Cairo]. There is a definite desire to extend the conference to the complex spectrum of all Iraqi groups.

RFI: Some delegates at the first preparatory conference in Cairo demanded that invitations should not be issued to people labeled as “Ba’athist” and the “resistance.” Will there be any groups absent from the conference in Baghdad?

Lamani: The final list of the Iraqis who will be invited to this conference has not been prepared yet. The secretary-general has personally invited the foreign ministers of all Arab countries, as well as the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey because their countries neighbor Iraq. We have likewise addressed invitations to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to the secretary-generals of Arab and Middle Eastern regional organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab Maghreb Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The secretary-general has also addressed an invitation to the current president of the European [Commission] to come to the conference. We have invited as well the foreign minister of Malaysia, who is the current president of the Nonaligned Movement.

In addition, we have received requests from other countries that want to attend the opening [of the conference], such as Spain and Italy. Invitations have consequently been sent to them. There have been some invitations addressed by the [Arab League] General Secretariat to the foreign ministries of the five permanent member countries of the UN Security Council. These invitations are for the opening [of the conference], with more being sent if there is a request.

But regarding the Iraqi groups with whom we have been in contact, we want to preserve a real representation of all layers and tribes. In the coming days, I will conduct visits in order to continue these efforts. Within the next days, I will visit Al-Najaf to meet with the religious authority [i.e., Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] there. I will also visit Irbil to meet with the politicians in Kurdistan. We are pursuing, until the last moment, our aim to make the conference successful.

RFI: Some Iraqi politicians have called for moving the conference to a neighboring country due to security concerns. How do you respond to these demands?

Lamani: Many ideas have been put forward on moving [the conference]. But concerning Baghdad, this was the agreement of the Iraqi groups that we brought together at the preparatory conference in Cairo. The provision was that the national accord conference would be held in Baghdad, for the symbolic character of Baghdad as the capital of all Iraqis and all Iraqi groups, despite the awareness of the security situation. Nevertheless, all measures will be taken by the government and the arrival of all delegations to the place of the gathering will be secured, whether of the international delegations or of all Iraqi governmental and nongovernmental delegations. They will be brought to a secure zone so that the success of the conference is ensured.

RFI: After the conference issues its recommendations, who will be in charge of their implementation?

Lamani: According to a decision adopted at the summit [of Arab countries] in Khartoum two months ago, the Arab League has taken the responsibility of following closely the implementation of all recommendations that the Arab League agrees on.

RFI: What will be the major points discussed at the conference?

Lamani: This will be a conference of accord, of an agreement between Iraqis that will be the closest to reality. There will be no winners or losers. There will only be an agreement to restore trust among all Iraqi groups for building this country. Taken into account will be the historical role the country has played not only in the region but also on the level of humanity, looking back to the ancient civilizations that have marked this country.

RFI: In your opinion, as the representative of the Arab League, what is needed to get Iraq out of its present situation?

Lamani: I believe the most important for this is a mutual understanding among Iraqis.

Egyptian Ambassador-designate Ihab al-Sharif was kidnapped in Iraq in July 2005 and is presumed killed (epa)

RFI: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has rebuked some Arab countries because they have not sent congratulations to the newly formed Iraqi government. How do you understand this rebuke?

Lamani: There is definitely a lack of Arab presence [in Iraq] and the secretary-general [of the Arab League] has contributed a lot to improving this situation. In this framework, the General Secretariat has opened a mission to secure communication [between member states and Iraq].

When we came here, we were generally guided by three main principles: the territorial integrity of Iraq, the full independence of Iraq, and the necessity of securing communication between Iraq and the Arab world, because we believe that Iraq’s isolation from the Arab world is an anomaly that cannot be ignored.

Of course, diplomats from some countries have been attacked and even killed here. So, some attitudes may be understood due to the security situation. Nonetheless, I believe the time has come that Iraq restores its communications with the Arab world. We see it as a very positive step.

(translated by Petr Kubalek)

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