- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

LONDON Iraqi opposition groups yesterday urged the United States not to establish an interim American-led military or civilian administration in Baghdad once Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, but instead to support rule by an all-Iraqi transitional council.
They said they feared the presence of any U.S. administration ensconced in Baghdad would inflame Arab and Muslim opinion. Plans leaked to the media last week for an American civilian administration, even though temporary, would be opposed even by the exile groups relying on U.S. support for the Iraqi regime's overthrow, delegates told The Washington Times.
The apparent unanimity against a highly visible American role in the transition came after a 350-member conference concluded here two days late by forming a 65-member Supreme Council intended to become the forerunner of a new governing body.
"For American forces to stay in Iraq is not an option. They should get out as fast as possible," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, whose group, the Declaration of Iraqi Shias, will hold three of the newly formed council's places.
"The Iraqi people, either represented by the 65 [members] or expanded, should immediately fill the vacuum, and then we start the process of democratization."
Nor did he think it would be necessary for American troops to continue rooting out armed groups from the ousted regime, as they did in Afghanistan.
He contended that there would be no such remnants, because even Special Republican Guard units would accept the need to cooperate with the new regime.
Mr. al-Rubaie also called for an international or U.N. protective force to ensure stability.
He adamantly rejected any support for an internal coup d'etat. "Our biggest fear is that the mounting pressure on Saddam will cause a coup, then there will be no democracy after that. We want a proper transition to democracy. Any new dictator will have the same temptation to use Iraq's huge potential to threaten across its borders. Only a real democracy can restrain that aggression."
Democratic elections would be held within two years, a final political blueprint pledged.
The delegates were aware that Iraq's leadership was eager to label those at the meeting American stooges.
Some declined to acknowledge accepting any aid or weaponry from the United States. Such offers had been turned down on a visit to Washington in August, the Supreme Council's senior representative told a news conference.
Despite the overall agreement, differences between the often-fractious Iraqi exile groups could not be papered over.
One Sunni grouping, which walked out of the conference minutes before it ended, charged that the United States had engineered the presence on the 65-member council of a few Sunnis tainted with Iraqi government links and that underrepresenting Sunnis in a future government could spark civil war.
The conference agreed on a list of 49 projected ringleaders including Saddam and his two sons and vowed to put them on trial. But Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in particular made an impassioned appeal to Iraqis to seek reconciliation, not revenge.
To avoid the impression of American dominance, the Bush administration's Arabic- and Persian-speaking chief representative declined all interviews from his top-floor hotel suite, but issued a cautious comment to the Associated Press. "People said they couldn't to do it, but they did," said Zalmay Khalilzad.
"You have to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is a positive step in the right direction."

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