Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 23rd April 2017

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Nostalgia dominates Iraqi Ba’ath conference in Spain

The participants’ message was that what is happening in Iraq does not reflect the true image of the country.

Nostalgia lives on. Conference panel discussing prospects for Iraq future.

Nostalgia lives on. Conference panel discussing prospects for Iraq future.
(Iraqi Trade Link News)

Oviedo, Spain - Iraq should be rebuilt by the Ba’ath Party. It is the only organisation that is in every village, the only structure left in the country. That was the view of Ali Sharoukh, the youth representative to the Iraqi Expatriates Conference in north-western Spain in early April.

About 300 expats living in the United States, Europe and Latin American and Asian countries stood in silence as the old Iraqi national anthem was played. Saddam Hussein cast a watchful eye over the gathering from an enormous picture in a gold frame projected onto a screen in the massive conference hall with 2,000 regal dark blue seats and a marble floor.

Ageing, elegantly dressed men and women, who carried themselves with dignity and pride, remembered an Iraq long gone. Tears fell as some gazed, forlorn and sad, at a map decorated with the lion of Babylon and palm trees. Iraq was in their hearts but it was the Iraq of yesterday. “Life for these people has stopped,” a conference participant said. “They have come from the cave of history.”

Support from the host city was overwhelming with traditional Spanish musicians welcoming the participants, including 50 representatives of foreign and Arab organisations, as the mayor of Oviedo opened the proceedings and representatives from the local authority waxed lyrically about Andalusia, a melting pot of cultures.

A spokesman for the Committee for the Support of the Arab Cause in Spain emphasised that the conference was bringing Arab and Spanish people together. “Many Iraqi people had to flee from slaughter and human right violations. We open our hearts to them,” he said.

Many of the sessions over a 3-day period were high on rhetoric and emotional speeches. An Iraqi woman, in a splendid traditional, green gallivare with gold threads, spoke of a strong, proud Iraq that is facing the daggers aimed at it. “It is the Iraq of Sumeria, the Iraq of great battles,” she said.

There was frequent mention of the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, a decisive fight in 636AD between the Arab Muslim army and the Sassanid Persian army.

The Iraqi Expatriates Organisation, which organised the conference, was set up in 1994 by Saddam’s regime to create a pressure group to campaign against economic sanctions imposed in 1991 following the invasion of Kuwait. This was the 11th conference that has been dominated by ex-Ba’athists.

Young Iraqis, some born in exile and who had never seen their parents’ homeland, attended full of enthusiasm and idealism. They abandoned the slogans and traditional political rhetoric and advocated setting up an organisation for expatriate youth as well as international Iraqi Arab pressure groups and a television channel for Arab and Iraqi expatriates.

Abdel Moneim Al-Mulla, the secretary-general of the conference, said the participants’ message was that what is happening in Iraq does not reflect the true image of the country. “The government is made up of stooges and slaves to other countries,” he said.

The declaration of principles issued at the end of the conference called for an end to the Iranian occupation of Iraq, the removal of all remnants of the US occupation, rejection of and resistance to all kinds of influence and foreign intervention and resistance to the terrorist organisations represented by armed sectarian militias. (An anti-government Iraqi website calling itself the Foreign Relations Bureau – Iraq – United Kingdom published a paper listing 60 Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.)

It also called for the convening of an Iraqi national conference to change the political process, rewrite the constitution and start a transition to ensure the liquidation of the remnants of the occupation and the abolition of laws that violate human rights, such as the Anti-Terrorism Law, which mandates the death penalty for “anyone who committed, a terrorist act, along with anyone who incites, plans, finances or assists terrorists to commit such a crime.” Sunnis say the law is a government tactic for legally pursuing its opponents.

Dismissing the conference, an expatriate living in London described Iraq as a mess. “There are too many vipers in the nest and that makes for a volatile and dangerous situation,” he said. “These people went to Spain to enjoy themselves. What can they do about the situation on the ground?”

Sabah Mukhtar, head of the Arab Lawyers Association (UK), said Iraqis were losing hope, identity and focus. “People are depressed but here [over lunch] they were singing — not crying their hearts out,” he said.

“An attempt, limited though it may be, to think of ways of affecting the situation in Iraq, is useful. If Iraq is liberated from Iran, the Americans and the militias following the inevitable fall of the [Islamic State] ISIS fig leaf that all are hiding behind, Iraq may rise again. The current government, which stole millions and depends on the militias it created, will be replaced by a national, secular and representative government that begins the reconciliation process.”

Mukhtar’s statement may be a dream but Ghassan al-Tamimi, a member of the conference’s organising committee, was adamant that expat Iraqis would meet annually to promote their cause. “We will give the smell of jasmine back to Iraq,” he said.