Sixty-five thousand U.S. military men and women are poised around Iraq for an impending invasion; 50,000 more are likely to be called up after Christmas. Arab politicians are screaming till they are blue in the face that a war on Iraq would plunge the entire Middle East into chaos. Israeli government officials are imploring the U.S. to launch the war now.
However, none of the above succinctly indicates the unimaginable devastation yet to befall the region. The only surefire way of foretelling the hellish outcome in Iraq in the next few months is to count the number of rats finally emerging from the sewers to festoon the night streets with their stench and loathing.
And emerge they did in London.
Three hundred so-called Iraqi opposition members gathered in their Armani suits, Rolex watches, and flowing Islamic garb to express their desire to forge a new future in Iraq. If the London meeting, held December 13-17, is any indication of the unity to which the Iraqis can look forward, well, they are sure to be disappointed.
Firstly, several prominent Sunni Muslim and non-Sunni opposition groups boycotted the London meeting. They charged the London conference with bias and favoritism, and under-representing their concerns. Iraqi women's groups also claimed they were not represented. A pathetic number of five women were allowed to join in the London conference. That is five out of three hundred; only 1.6 percent. Women make up nearly 52 percent of Iraq, yet they are represented as 1.6 percent. We are well on the way to pluralism, it seems.
Secondly, infighting, squabbling, furious walkouts, charges of complicity in war crimes against the Iraqi people, accusations of greed and allegiance to the U.S. marred the London conferences. A large portion of the attendants harbor ill will to the U.S.; however, this is not being publicized so as to show that all Iraqi opposition groups support the current Bush administration's push for war.
Thirdly, the London conferences did not squeeze into the agenda any mention of the plight of the Iraqi people, the suffering from two decades of war, the ill-effects of the U.N.-sponsored, U.S.-dominated sanctions, nor the crisis over depleted uranium in southern Iraq.
Perhaps the most puzzling outrage is the claim that the London conference was organized by the Iraqi people, of the Iraqi people, and for the Iraqi people. The Western analyst may be impressed by this nostalgic tip-of-the-hat to Jeffersonian democracy, but it is hardly true of the situation in Iraq.
A breakdown of the Iraqi opposition reveals startling facts. A large corps of the opposition served in the Iraqi army, secret services (almukhabarat) and, indeed, participated in and often encouraged several atrocities committed against the Iraqi people: Kurdish Halabja, where 6,000 rebelling Kurds were gassed to death, and the Anfal project, where some 200,000 Iraqi Kurds were either relocated or altogether ''disappeared.'' These military figureheads are now touted as saviors of Iraq when their hands are drenched in the blood of innocents: Former Iraqi General Najib al Salihi, one of those nominated to replace Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is currently awaiting a war crimes conviction for his role in using mustard gas against Iranian troops during the 1980s. General Khazraji, a U.S. favorite, is also being investigated in Denmark for coordinating and planning with Saddam Hussein key campaigns against the Kurds. We are now expected to believe these men are democratic pioneers?
Turning away from military persona, the rest of the Iraqi opposition is comprised of stately figures, with scrupulous pasts, who have not stepped foot in Iraq in more than 30 years. Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), has been indicted in Jordan as a thief and fraudster for his role in the demise of one of his financial institutions in Amman. The collapse of his financial institution led to the forfeit of 10 percent of Jordan's budget for 1988. He has been sentenced to 20 years hard labor in absentia. A thief to run Iraq?
Sherif Ali bin Hussain, who presents himself as heir apparent to the Iraqi throne, has not been in Iraq in 43 years, having left at the age of two when his cousin, King Faisal, was killed in the bloodthirsty 1958 Iraqi revolution. Most of the King's family were killed: an expression of Iraqi resentment to a foreign Jordanian monarchy in Iraq. Now, bin Hussain wants a nationwide referendum on returning the monarchy to Iraq.
Various allegiances within the Iraqi opposition also raise some poignant questions. On the one hand, Ahmed Chalabi has promised to scrap all existing oil deals with Russian and French conglomerates in favor of deals with American (Texan) oil franchises should he grasp power in Iraq. He has also promised to sign a peace treaty and defense pact with Israel, running contrary to the policies of Iraq and every other Arab country since 1979. He has been accused of being an 'agent' of the Americans.
On the other hand, the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) sold itself as the sole representative of the Shiite majority in Iraq while pledging allegiance to its Iranian backers. Amidst calls of fraud and political arm-twisting, "Everything has been cooked up behind closed doors upstairs," Ihsan Abdul Aziz of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan told the BBC. This resulted in furious walkouts by various Shiite and Sunni groups.
The Kurds, for their part, came out with the most gains as they coerced the London delegates to adopt the notion of ''federalism'' in the final draft resolution. Federalism paves the way for referendums down the road; a Kurdish referendum on independence is a likely scenario in the next two years.
Turbulent times await the Iraqi people as petty thieves, war criminals and foreign agents conspire how best to divide Iraq amongst themselves. A civil war is now a likely specter.
Although the above seems somewhat bleak, what is most disheartening is the fact that ordinary American, British, Australian, Canadian, Egyptian and Swedish citizens of the world (among others) increasingly care far more for the Iraqi people than do the so-called Iraqi opposition.
A popular Canadian debate program, CounterSpin, recently investigated "the intentions of the internal, regional and international forces now fighting over Iraq, and [whether] any of them really represent the interests of the Iraqi people."
Issam Shukri, an activist campaigning for the removal of the sanctions on Iraq, asked members of the Iraqi opposition how they could justify war and carnage and account for thousands of Iraqi deaths in their call for the U.S. to forcibly remove. The Iraqi opposition could not answer. Blame Saddam, is all they seemed to reiterate.
Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org