Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on the Damascus Conference: Part I

Every once in a while, you will see something in English about the Iraqi armed resistance, of the nationalist, as opposed to the global-islamist persuasion, but it is a rare thing, as if this was something like spotting the ivory-billed woodpecker. There was a widely-remarked piece in the Guardian some weeks ago about a meeting in Damascus of representatives from major resistance groups for the purpose of forming a "Political Office" for the Iraqi resistance, and to organize a conference (the "Damascus Conference"). Then there were reports in Arabic media about the cancellation of the Damascus Conference shortly before it was to be held (on July 23), and the news of the cancellation was picked up in English but not widely. And that was that. Notice I have left out all the details, what the conference was supposed to be about, who was invited to attend, and so on. You'll see why.

Meanwhile there has been a lot of writing by people connected with the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance milieu (for a sketchy account of them, see my October 2006 post called "Meet the Resistance") trying to explain what was happening, who are the promoters of this and for what reasons, and what should be done next. (These are posted on a variety of websites including and, and as a matter of fact if you can locate the article you want and fire up the google automatic translator and click on Arabic to English, then paste the URL into the appropriate slot, sometimes you can get a pretty good overall idea what the writer is trying to say. Hopefully this will be an incentive to some to at least start by learning the Arabic alphabet, in order to be able to identify posted articles by author, so as to know what to click on. This will then become addictive, and you won't be able to resist the temptation to go further and try and unravel some of the inevitable machine-gibberish. You'll be literate in Arabic before you know it!).

Back to the issue at hand. I have myself been unable to get my arms about the whole body of recent writings on the Damascus Conference that wasn't, but again in the interests of trying to break the English-language ice, I would like to just outline three key issues or themes, from the point of view of the nationalist resistance:

(1) Liberation of Iraq by Iraqis acting independently, versus being coopted by foreign agendas.

(2) Leadership by the fighting, Iraq-based resistance, versus ceding control to certain intellectuals of the diaspora.

(3) Negotiation with the occupiers as a part of the struggle for complete liberation, versus premature negotiation which would amount to a sellout.

(1) The "foreign agendas" theme

The most blunt statement of this theme is in an Al-Quds al-Arabi piece by Awni al-Qalamji this morning, titled "The other side of the Damascus Conference". In it he lays out the case for thinking the whole "Political Office"/Damascus Conference idea was a creature of Syrian-Iranian strategizing. Syria and Iran have for some years been holding joint meetings to discuss the situation in Iraq and to develop a common strategy, he writes, and this common policy basically involves selling themselves (Syria and Iran, that is) as the make-or-break factor in any US attempt to extricate itself from its current untenable position. This doesn't mean an end of the occupation itself, which Syria and Iran both find to their liking, because it prevents any resurgence of Iraq as a regional threat to them. On the contrary, he says the the idea is that Syria and Iran would like to show they are in a position to help the US find a comfortable occupation-posture. Cancellation of the Damascus Conference, Qalamji says, was nothing more than a reflection of the fact that Syria and Iran thought it best to hold this prospect and this demonstration of clout in abeyance, so to speak, currently having other fish to fry on the regional-security front.

A more general statement of the "foreign agendas" warning can be found in an article written by a former Baath official by the name of Salah al-Mukhtar titled "The Baath and the Common Front: Initial basic observations". In contrast to the macro-political focus of Qalamji, Mukhtar's initial reactions to the cancellation of the Damascus Conference have to do with what you could call micro-political issues including the psychology or philosophy of keeping a broad front together without letting ideological differences get in the way, and so on. On the question of foreign agendas, he writes as follows:
The fundamental axiom, which needs to be emphasized above all others, is that those setting up and strengthening a common front have no interest in becoming a tool in the hand of any Arab power, or or any regional or foreign [power], no matter what the nature of that power, but only in strengthening the independence of the party and the resistance and the nationalist forces. ...The success of the Front in defeating the occupation is going to be dependent on its independence, and conditional on the preservation of a climate of rejection of any deal with the occupation of with any other party, and [dependent on] preventing the exploitation of the Front in the formation of regional or international deals, no matter what their nature, and no matter what our relationship with the parties in question.
to be continued


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