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January 17, 2004

Another Son Rises in the West

by Sanjay Suri

The son of a former Iraq prime minister plans to return to Iraq next week to offer his share of leadership.

Saad Saleh Jabr, whose father Saleh Jabr was prime minister in 1947-48 during the reign of King Faisal II, will return to Iraq after 35 years of exile spent in the United States and Britain.

Jabr follows Sharif Ali, a cousin of former King Faisal II who has returned from Britain to Iraq to offer monarchy as a unifying force. Despite the high royal position of his father, Sharif Ali has not got far down the royal road.

Several other exiled Iraqis have returned to Iraq from Britain to engage in political life on the strength of their connections with the U.S. and British governments during their period of exile.

Jabr, who has been working as a middleman for Western companies to win contracts in the Arab world during his years in exile, has been a force among Iraqi opposition leaders largely on the strength of that lineage, and of weekly newspapers he produced from 1984 up until the invasion of Iraq last year.

He launched the first Iraqi opposition newspaper Al Tayar from his base in London in 1984. That was followed up by a new weekly Free Iraq in 1992.

Every opposition leader in Iraq is familiar with the newspapers," Jabr told IPS Friday. "In fact half the members of the Governing Council have graduated from our group."

A spokesman for the Governing Council called him in London Thursday to discuss his political agenda on return to Iraq, Jabr said.

Jabr said he had discussed his return to Iraq with senior British officials and with senior leaders within Iraq. "I'll talk to the Americans when I get there," he said. But U.S. officials are making arrangements for his security, he said.

Jabr has had mixed relations with the United States. His wife is from the United States "and I'm a big baseball fan," he says.

Jabr says he has corresponded twice with U.S. officials, including Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials, to support coup attempts against Saddam Hussein.

The attempts failed, and the United States must take a fair share of blame for that, Jabr says.

Jabr heads a political party, the Free Iraqi Council. That will now add to about 120 political parties already in existence in Iraq.

"But my real aim is to bring these parties together," he said. "For five years we should freeze all the separate political activities and work together to rebuild Iraq."

Parties need to come together urgently in order to stop different groups going their own ways, he said. "There are differences emerging between Arabs and Kurds, and between Shias and Sunnis," he said. "We are getting to the stage when this kind of thing could get out of hand."

Discussions with key Iraqi leaders suggest that many are keen to consider a joint action plan by political parties, Jabr said.

"My main aim is to get everyone together. I want to tell people that goddammit, where is this sectarianism going to get you? I am a sheikh, but I am a liberal sheikh."

Jabr plans to make his move to unify parties outside any efforts by the Governing Council. "I am glad that some people have accepted those positions on the Governing Council, but I would not have accepted that myself," he told media representatives earlier.

Jabr says he will push for rule by Iraqis to replace the United States. "They can take all the bases they want, wherever they want, but they should leave the running of the country to Iraqis, we know how to do it, let us run the show."

Jabr is keen to convince Iraqis and the West that he can have a role to play. The elderly leader came to a press meeting walking unsteadily with the support of a stick.

"You must ask why I walk with a stick," he said. "I overdid the exercising and hurt my back. I will leave this stick behind when I return to Iraq."

Inter Press Service

(Inter Press Service)

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