Planned conference on Iraq causes controversy

Iraq, photo: CTK

A two-day conference that is to be held on the grounds of the Chamber of Deputies this weekend has been causing much controversy. Speakers from around Europe will be in Prague to discuss the future of Iraq but the conference organisers have refused to reveal the names of the participants. The speculation that followed has led to a political row, a complaint from the Iraqi embassy, and criminal charges against Czech TV. Dita Asiedu reports:

Iraq, photo: CTK
The Chamber of Deputies may be hosting a conference that could bring into question the Czech Republic's policy on Iraq - concern voiced by the Civic Democrats, who have been informed that conference participants include Saddam Hussein supporters who strongly oppose the presence of US troops in Iraq.

Speaking to TV Nova, Faisal Ismail, the head of the Czech-Iraqi Association, one of the conference organisers says Iraqis living in Europe who do not agree with the presence of all foreign troops in Iraq will be at the conference. Four Arabic television stations, Al Jazeera included, have also been asked to cover the conference.

The conference will be held under the auspices of the Social Democrat deputy lower house speaker Lubomir Zaoralek. But such controversial discussion should not be led on Parliamentary grounds, says Civic Democrat Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. The Iraqi Embassy in Prague has also expressed concern in a complaint sent to the foreign ministry.

This weekend, Czech TV suggested that some of the conference participants are members of the pro-Saddam Hussein underground Baath Party. It quoted former Iraqi dissident Maroof Taha as saying that the whole event is most likely financed by Saddam Hussein's daughter Raghdad who now lives in Jordan.

Lubomir Zaoralek
But the Czech Peace Forum, the other organiser of the "Prague Appeal for Iraq" as the conference has been called rejects the allegations. It says Sarmaad Abdul Karim, a participant named by the media as a Saddam Hussein supporter, fled the dictator's regime in 1989 and has been living in Denmark as a dissident for the last sixteen years. The Peace Forum also stresses that all expenses are being covered by the forum and the Czech-Iraqi Association.

Czech Television now faces a criminal lawsuit. The conference organisers say their reporter had spread false alarm and intimidated the conference's participants. A complaint has also been sent to the Czech TV Council and Parliament's media commission.