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Iraqi Resistance Infighting

A meeting due to be held in Damascus this week between dozens of Iraqi resistance groups responsible for attacking US troops in Iraq was canceled amid infighting over leadership issues and differing political agendas.

"The meeting didn't go ahead because of disagreements within the resistance following Obama's announcement that US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq at an earlier date," said an Iraqi supporter of the insurgency, who asked to remain anonymous.

The Supreme Command of Jihad and Liberation (SCJL), an Iraqi insurgent front comprised of 32 Baathist and Islamist groups led by Saddam Hussein's former vice-president Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, were due to meet with other groups opposed to US-backed Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government to discuss plans for the future governance of Iraq after US troops leave.

The meeting is said to have been organized by Khair el-din Haseeb, a professor at the Center for Arab Studies in Beirut and supporter of the armed resistance. It was canceled, however, amidst new rivalry over the leadership of the resistance. The infighting involves accusations by some SCJL members that Mr Hasseeb and other individuals are trying to win favour with the new US administration by showing that they have the power to bring the insurgent groups together at the negotiating table.

The SCJL was established in 2007 as a national resistance front to "liberate" Iraq and is led by the remnants of Saddam's Baathist government in exile. It was formed following a year of negotiations between some 20 different secular and Islamist insurgent units that had been waging separate wars against US troops in Iraq. The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, a Sufi militia notorious for fighting pitched battles with US troops in Fallujah and Diala, is one of the most infamous groups under the SCJL umbrella.

A representative of the SCJL, using the nome de guerre Abu Muhammad, said the meeting set to take place this week had been canceled "due to a lack of preparation." He added that all of the resistance groups were unified in their mission to oust Mr Maliki's "illegal US puppet" government and establish a "secular democratic government, with a reconciliation process that includes everyone" when US troops leave.

Despite these two broad aims however, Abu Muhammad conceded that the groups were not all in agreement about how this process would take shape. He also acknowledged that there were "difficulties" getting so many mixed resistance groups to agree on one single strategy.

Cracks in alliances within the Iraqi resistance movement come as the unifying goal of seeing US forces pull out of Iraq draws nearer and differing political agendas for the so-called "post-liberation" period to come to the fore.

Mr Obama said recently that the US "combat mission" would officially end by August 2010, with 50,000 troops staying in the country until the end of 2011 to advise Iraqi forces. Mr Maliki has said the Iraqi forces are capable of controlling security in the country after the US leaves.

Abu Muhammad called on the US to enter negotiations directly with the SCJL about the US troop withdrawal. "Now we're ready to talk to Obama, but he must discuss the pullout with all of the military and political wings of the resistance if he wants stability," he said. "The US can save face by entering negotiations or else withdraw in total defeat."

The US has previously accused the Iraqi Baath party, the political face of the SCJL, of being a driving force behind the insurgency in Iraq, coordinating and funding attacks against US troops on the ground. Mr Douri has been in hiding since Baghdad fell in 2003 and is on the US military's wanted list. He became leader of the Baath party following Saddam Hussein's execution in 2006.

Among the SCJL's demands are the abolition of all laws enacted since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power and the trials of all Iraqis who have cooperated with the US. The front also calls for the reinstatement of the Iraqi army and the national security and police forces that were disbanded following the US invasion.

Neither the US nor Iraq's Shiite-led government has shown any willingness to make such concessions to the SCJL.

Muayed Abdul-Kader, editor-in-chief of the pro-insurgency Al-Saut newspaper, confirmed that insurgents were making plans for after US troops withdraw. He added that the Baathists are capable of ousting Mr Maliki from power.

"They are looking to build a centralized democratic government with a strong national army like the one under Saddam that will absorb the militias and see them naturally disarm," he said.

Mr Kader also denied charges that the SCJL has any links to al-Qaeda. "The Iraqi resistance groups have been fighting al-Qaeda," he said. "Al-Qaeda performs revenge operations that hurt Iraqi civilians and this is an agenda the resistance disagrees with."

Despite the lull in violence since 2007, a drop credited to the US troop surge, a ceasefire by the Shiite Mahdi Army and the introduction of "awakening" councils which saw many former Sunni insurgents bought onto the US payroll, Abu Muhammad said he anticipated some "unrest" after US troops withdraw in the race to fill the security vacuum.

"Agents of Maliki and other Shiite political figures, along with the Kurds will confront us to defend their agendas," he said. "But we believe that most people will give up on the government and cooperate with us."

He added that the SCJL was attempting to start dialogue with the Sadrists, a nationalist Shiite movement headed by cleric Muqtada al Sadr which is also opposed to the US presence in Iraq.

"Some Sadrists have joined Mr Maliki's government and we are against that, but there are others who are in favour of national dialogue and we will speak with them," Abu Muhammad said.

Sheikh Ra'ad Kadhamyi, the official representative of the Sadrist movement in Damascus, said the group would not cooperate with former Baathists under Douri's command before or after the US troop withdrawal.

"The Saddamists' hands are covered in blood, they have a bad history and are corrupt, we can't discuss anything with them," Mr Kadhamyi said. "We want to free Iraq from all kinds of occupation and we will fight for an honest clean Iraqi hand to run the country, where all Iraqis share the power."

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