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Saturday, 14 December, 2002, 20:34 GMT
Saddam opponents seek foreign help
Iraqi opposition leader, Ahmed al-Chalabi (l) shakes hands with Sciri members
The Iraqi opposition has suffered from infighting
Iraqi opposition groups meeting in London have appealed for foreign help to depose Saddam Hussein and urged the creation of a democratic state if the regime were toppled.

Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim (r) of Sciri
Main groups at conference:
  • Iraqi National Congress (INC)
  • Iraqi National Accord (INA)
  • Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (Sciri)
  • Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
  • Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
  • Movement for Constitutional Monarchy

  • More than 300 delegates from groups riddled by ethnic, religious and political divisions are attending the conference, which has been encouraged by the United States.

    "We have full right to ask for foreign help, and we should not be ashamed," said Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two groups that controls the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq.

    Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress - a man who has been tipped as the successor to Saddam Hussein - said they were hoping to produce two declarations by the end of the weekend.

    "First a political statement calling for the overthrow of the dictatorship and the establishment of a democratic, pluralistic, parliamentary, federal government for all of Iraq," he said.

    "Second is the creation of an authority, which will have the power to fill any gap in the sovereignty of an Iraq territory as a consequence of any action that may be forthcoming."

    Many delegates said they agreed with Mr Chalabi, supporting the prospect of a US-led attack on the country.

    Open in new window : Iraqi opposition
    Views from the conference

    However, correspondents covering the event say despite the apparent show of unity, it is likely to prove extremely difficult for the traditionally fractious group to come up with a blueprint for an alternative Iraqi Government.

    But failure to start formulating a plan, could rob them of a chance to play a meaningful role in any Iraq administration should Saddam Hussein fall.

    US role

    Washington is keen that the opposition unite before starting any military action against the country.

    Zalmay Khalilzad, recently appointed as President George Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, said he was satisfied with the way in which the conference was going.

    Saddam Hussein
    The groups are seeking a role in a post-Saddam Iraq
    "The Iraqi people will find the US standing with them to make a better future," said the envoy, who also acted as the president's special representative to Afghanistan.

    He added that the US hoped the Iraqi military would be part of the liberation of their country.

    The BBC's Pam O'Toole says that such words will reinforce the suspicions of many conference delegates that the US is hoping regime change in Baghdad will occur through a military coup.

    Over the years, the Kurds - and a number of other prominent leaders attending the conference, including Mr Chalabi, head of the INC - have enjoyed support from various arms of the US administration.

    Although the US Government has said the meeting is a "purely Iraqi affair", it is believed to be watching the outcome of the event closely.

    However some groups have boycotted the conference, saying it serves "an American agenda".

    Protesters from the Communist Party of Iraq, which opposes Saddam Hussein, gathered outside the venue and accused the delegates of "taking orders" from President Bush and UK Prime Minister Blair.

    The BBC's Clarence Mitchell
    "This is being seen as the broadest gathering of Iraqi opposition for a decade"
    Dr Hamid al-Bayati, SCIRI
    "This gathering proves that the Iraqi people are willing to see Iraq free"
    Dr Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress leader
    "This conference is an Iraqi idea"

    Key stories





    See also:

    15 Dec 02 | Middle East
    10 Dec 02 | Middle East
    03 Dec 02 | Middle East
    11 Oct 02 | Middle East
    30 Oct 02 | Middle East
    27 Nov 02 | Middle East
    02 Oct 02 | Middle East
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