SALAHUDDIN, IRAQ — IRAQI opposition leaders have emerged from their first full-scale conference on Iraqi soil hopeful that the leadership structures and political platforms they have agreed on will hasten the downfall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But they have few illusions about how soon that may happen, and how easy it may be to wrest his grip from the levers of power.
The four-day session of the self-styled Iraqi National Congress, which ended here Oct. 31, succeeded in unifying all but a handful of the opposition factions behind a common political program which will appeal to the Western powers. More than 260 delegates from dozens of groups reflected virtually every facet of Iraq's complex society.
The congress set up a three-man Presidential Council and a 26-member Executive Council to act as a kind of shadow government. It will direct the opposition's activities, explain its mission internationally, and try to win over Mr. Hussein's military and political supporters.
While most of the business of the gathering was focused on hammering out political differences and agreeing on the new leadership structures, there was concern over the adverse reaction of Iraq's neighbors.
Delegates were disturbed by Turkey's call for a foreign ministers' meeting between Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia on Nov. 14 to discuss "developments in northern Iraq."
They were even more disturbed by the incursion of Turkish troops deep into Iraqi Kurdistan, despite the fact that Iraqi Kurds had just reached an agreement for separatist Turks - rebels of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party - to evacuate their bases in northern Iraq.
Delegates also said they believed that their meeting on Iraqi soil and their commitment to democracy for a future Iraq had unsettled the regional powers. "The opposition movement historically was under the influence of the regional powers, but now is completely free in its political decisions," said Aziz Ulyan of the Association of Iraqi Democrats.
"All the delegates have put Iraqi interests at the top of the agenda, weakening the influence and control of the regional powers. So what we are seeing is a coordinated effort by them to spoil the democratic experiment in Iraqi Kurdistan, and to pressure the opposition not to accept a democratic program for future Iraq," he added.
"Some of the neighboring countries don't like democracy, and their fears may be raised in proportion with our stress on democracy - that's a problem for us," said Haidar Abbas of the radical Shiite Al-Daawa Party.
But the cooperation of those neighbors will be as vital as Western help if the opposition is to bring down the Iraqi president.
One of the first tasks facing the new opposition leadership will therefore be to pacify and reassure the neighboring states whose anxieties have been aroused by the opposition's moves and by the recent declaration by the Kurds of a federated state of northern Iraq.
The conference decided to send delegations to the neighboring states, to explain that the Kurds' federal arrangement would ensure Iraq's unity rather than hastening its disintegration, a fear frequently expressed by the neighbors.
After much review, the delegates endorsed the Kurds' federation decision and adopted federalism as a formula for the entire country in a post-Saddam pluralistic parliamentary democracy.
For the Kurds, opposition endorsement of the federal concept was essential in order to defuse hostility from neighbors, especially Turkey, which sees it as a step toward Kurdish separatism. "We are all committed to a unified Iraq, and we saw this as the best way of keeping the country together," said Dr. Abbas.
"This is our defensive shield," said Hoshyar Zebari, a senior official of the Kurdish Democratic Party, a major opposition group.