After several postponements, a US-sponsored meeting of Iraqi opposition groups and individuals took place in London on December 14-15.
The main resolutions adopted by some 330 delegates to the Iraqi Open Opposition Conference reiterated their often-repeated commitment to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the introduction of democracy in Iraq.
“It was not the opposition Iraqis but the Americans who needed this gathering, eager to show they had broad support among diverse opposition groups,” says Dr. Mustafa Alani of the Royal United Services Institute, London. “Whatever show of unity the opposition leaders managed to project will be short-lived. They will go back to devoting more space in their publications to attacking one another than Saddam.”
Before the conference had begun, even Kanan Makiya, chairman of the State Department-sponsored committee that issued the document “The Transition to Democracy in Iraq,” acknowledged that “no Iraqi Arab political organization on the scene today has been tested and can be said to be truly representative.” The assessment of most nonpartisan Iraqis in London was that the US-funded exercise was a thinly disguised attempt by the White House to provide itself with a political cover for invading Iraq.
As Alani notes, “Aside from Sharif Ali bin al Hussein [of the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy], the conference did not have a single Sunni Arab leader, even though Sunnis are a third of the Arab population.” The absence of Sunnis, who have ruled Iraq since 1638–first as part of the (Sunni) Ottoman Empire, and later as an independent state, from 1932 to the present–foreshadows trouble in the post-Saddam era, in which a newly em-powered Shiite majority may choose to settle old scores with the Sunnis. What’s more, like other ruling classes and ethnic groups throughout history, the Sunnis are unlikely to give up power without a fight–and thus they are a force that must be reckoned with in any post-Saddam Iraq.
In reality, so much of the debate in the opposition ranks–whether or not to form a provisional government, and whether to choose its leadership on the basis of ethnicity and sect or sheer merit–was just hot air. These options are predicated on the fate of Saddam. That will be decided by the Pentagon. And gatherings such as the one in London make not an iota of difference to its plans.
How the American invasion of Iraq proceeds will determine what happens after Saddam. Consider three scenarios: optimistic, pessimistic and in-between.