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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 May, 2004, 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK
Iraqi scholars plan US opposition
By David Bamford
BBC, London

Five-hundred Iraqis from across the political spectrum have been taking part in a Baghdad conference to discuss opposition to the US-led occupation.

The organisers, calling themselves the United Iraqi Scholars Group, say the aim of their five-hour meeting was to work out a common platform on how to end the occupation.

US soldier watching Iraqis
Those participating are not content with the US running of Iraq
If the people of Iraq, and the Arab world beyond, were hoping that the US-led invasion of Iraq and the collapse of its authoritarian Baathist regime would usher in an era of stability, peace and democracy, then they have been sorely disappointed.

What is becoming increasingly accepted as the inherent inability of the US-led coalition to come to grips with the situation - further exacerbated by the range of opposition forces ranged against it - has left a political vacuum, a vacuum that this initiative hopes to help fill.

Boycott plan

The senior Shia cleric behind the initiative, Sheikh Jawad al-Khalisi, brought together some 500 prominent Iraqis - Shia, Sunni, Arab nationalist and Kurdish.

They hope to carve out a path, free from American and other foreign influences, along which the majority of Iraqis could be persuaded to move.

The conference set up a 16-member panel, pledged to boycott any US-sponsored political group, including the Iraqi Governing Council, to re-establish the national army and to restore sovereignty under the auspices of the United Nations.

Sheikh Khalisi's opposition to the US programme seems bound to cause hostility in some quarters.

But the idea of a broad and wholly Iraqi initiative may also win hearts and minds among the local population.





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