A long-delayed conference of Iraqi opposition groups will likely take place next month in London, Bush administration officials said yesterday. They hailed it as a sign that progress could be made in creating the legal and political structures of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
Iraqi opposition groups have squabbled for months over when, how and where to hold the conference -- and, despite the administration's enthusiasm, reports continued yesterday that the feuding has not ended. But an administration official said that, despite daily bouts of "stomping feet and sucking thumbs" by Iraqi opposition leaders in the days leading to the conference, he believes all of the key officials understand the need to cooperate.
"This is a solid step forward for the opposition," he said. "It is a hopeful sign for the future that they will work collectively for the future of Iraq." U.S. officials hope the meeting yields a set of principles for a democratic Iraq.
The reports of opposition infighting had begun to embarrass the administration. Senior officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense William Luti and David Pearce, who oversees northern Persian Gulf affairs at the State Department, pressed opposition officials last week to compromise on a two-day conference that would include 300 delegates but would not create a government in exile. Some groups wanted a much smaller conference.
The administration official described the U.S. role as that of a "wise uncle" able to persuade the groups to "see past the differences and understand the bigger picture." Another administration official was more skeptical, saying the conference "was back on track but I'm not sure it has enough momentum to get into the station."
Some Iraqi analysts charged that the administration appeared determined to create a facade of cooperation without really having a policy on how to create a democratic Iraq if Hussein is toppled. "The meeting is a farce," said Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. "It is so clearly an exercise of form over function."
The administration officially recognizes six Iraqi opposition organizations, including the Iraqi National Congress -- an amalgam of anti-Hussein groups based in London -- as well as two Kurdish groups, an Iranian-based Shiite Muslim group, a group of former army officers and a monarchist party. Administration officials said the meeting will include other groups representing other former military officers and Turkish, Assyrian and Christian minorities.