BAGHDAD, Mar 12 (IPS) – The security conference held last Saturday in Baghdad produced statements, drew mortar fire, and brought little hope of security.
The conference, which was attended by representatives from 13 countries including Syria, Iran and the United States, was held inside the heavily fortified “green zone” in central Baghdad.
Representatives from Iraq’s six neighbouring countries (Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria) and delegates from the five permanent UN Security Council countries (the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France) were present along with several Arab representatives.
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani was reported to have observed the conference on video from his bed at the al-Hussein Medical City in Amman, Jordan.
International media were invited to show that the meeting was intent on bringing security to Iraq. That plan backfired after mortar shells landed within 50 metres of the conference centre, shattering glass panes in the building.
Conflict arose within the conference itself. Iran demanded a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. The United States accused Iran of assisting Shia militias.
“The whole world was there including some resistance fighters who, for the first time, responded to an Iraqi government call to attend a meeting,” Yassen Abdul Rahman, a lawyer and anti-occupation activist who attended the conference told IPS.
“The heroes of the resistance were represented by the shower of mortar missiles that broke the glass that separated the conference from the reality of the situation outside.”
Iraqis seemed divided over the value of the conference.
“We cannot afford to give up hope,” activist on women’s issues Ahlam al-Lami told IPS. “Those at that meeting are representatives of the whole world, and they are responsible for bringing back life to us. We might just give them an excuse to escape their responsibility if we say there is no hope.”
Others were less optimistic.
“Those who met inside the green zone are so persistent at keeping (Iraqi Prime Minister) Nouri al-Maliki and his gang in power in Iraq that they are polishing their U.S.-made shoes with international wax for a better appearance,” health expert Dr. Abdul-Salam al-Janabi told IPS.
Some Iraqi leaders accused the U.S.-backed Iraqi government at the conference of exploiting sectarian and ethnic differences to the advantage of the occupation forces.
“It is the same sectarian picture given once more by the Iraqi government,” a senior staff member of the Iraqi ministry of foreign affairs told IPS.
United Iraqi Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who also leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia group close to Iran, accused some Arab countries of supporting “terrorism.”
In a speech before the conference, Hakim attacked Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa who had called on the UN Security Council to support a proposed amendment of the new Iraqi constitution. The amendment move, backed by opposition groups, could lead to a challenge to the legitimacy of the Iraqi government.
Mussa had also called for disbanding of the local militias and expansion of political dialogue in order to achieve more balance in Iraq.
The ruling coalition is showing cracks. Hakim’s Shia coalition members have developed serious differences in strategies. These led recently to withdrawal of the al-Fadhila Party from the Prime Minister’s United Iraqi Alliance. Party leaders quit, citing “faulty sectarian policies.”
The move destabilised Iraq’s teetering government further.
Many Arab political analysts believe that this conference was yet another attempt by the U.S. administration to buy time in Iraq while it prepares to deal with Iran.
The U.S. military currently has two aircraft carrier battle groups in the region. This is the first time such a force has been positioned there since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has been covering Iraq and the Middle East for several years.)