Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqi Exiles Shift Concern from Deposing Saddam to Protecting Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqi Exiles Shift Concern from Deposing Saddam to Protecting Iraq

Article excerpt

On Feb. 27, 1990, a number of Iraqi opposition groups met in Damascus to define their mutual hopes and intentions. Many of the same groups gathered there again 10 months later on Dec. 27, 1990. The position papers that came out of those sessions reflect the dynamics of changing options. The cancellation of still another important conference, originally scheduled for Jan. 18, 1991 in London, caught the world media off guard. Busy watching the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf, some news sources even claimed that an Iraqi government-in-exile had been formed in the meeting that never happened.

As the US high-tech air assault of Jan. 16 began, this loose-knit group of exiled activists quickly reordered its priorities. "The issue now is not overthrowing Saddam Hussain," said Dr. Sahib Al-Hakim, a coordinator of the Iraqi opposition in London. "The issue now is stopping the destruction of Iraq, the dismembering of its infrastructure and the killing of its people while there is still something left to save."

Denouncing "Interference"

The groups who had gathered for the London conference issued a press release on Jan. 27 under the letterhead of Dr. Hakim's umbrella Organization of Human Rights in Iraq. Noting that they had previously denounced the sanctions imposed on Iraq, they stated:

"The right to overthrow this dictatorial regime is solely the responsibility of the Iraqi people without any interference from outside foreign powers.

"Maintaining that the Iraqi army is a formidable force, then using [that] as an excuse to hit Iraqi installations is a violation of the basic rules and international laws stipulated by the UN.

"It is inconceivable to rely on a single Security Council Resolution (No. 678) to bomb the Iraqi people [back to] the stone age.

"The dictator Saddam Hussain must be overthrown by the will and struggle of the Iraqi people and not by the foreign powers who previously aided and abetted him against his own people."

Back in February 1990, the Iraqi opposition delegates to the Damascus meeting had called for implementation of some 10 points including freedom of the press, the right to trade unions, the release of political prisoners and the return of deportees; the dismantling oft he security and intelligence services; abrogation of the "leading party" system; the establishment of a neutral national government; autonomy for the Kurdish people within Iraqi unity; religious, racial and political freedoms; and termination of the state of war with Iran. Twenty-four signers representing Kurdish, nationalist, socialist, communist and competing Islamic groups included such well known activists as Masoud Barzani (Kurdish Democratic Party), Barzani's off-times rival Jalal Talabani (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), Dr. Mebdir Al-Wees (Socialist Party), Abdulrazzak Al-Safi (Communist Party), Dr. Mahmoud Othman (Kurdish Socialist Party), Dr. Tahsin Mualla (Ba'ath Party), and Dr. Mohammad Bahr El-Eloom (Islamic group).

The December meeting, responding to the changes since the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, stated as its first goal the coordination of activities to overthrow Saddam Hussain, with no negotiations and no concessions. The second goal was to maintain the sovereignty of Iraq as a whole and to avoid the destruction of its economic and military capabilities. Third was the establishment of a provisional government after the fall of Saddam and the implementation of free elections. …

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