- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday ruled out an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq, dominated by Shi'ite Muslim clerics, while leaving the door open to an Islamic government, provided it is democratic.
Administration officials said the United States does not have a concrete formula for the new Iraqi government, although it wants one that is multiethnic, maintains the country's territorial integrity, has no weapons of mass destruction and is at peace with its neighbors.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flatly rejected Iran's system of Shi'ite clerical rule for Iraq.
"This much is certain," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so. We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship."
Still, administration officials said U.S. diplomats are discussing ideas about the future government with Shi'ites in southern Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, while far from endorsing an Iranian-style theocracy, has avoided ruling out an Islamic government.
"Why cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam not also be democratic?" he asked in an interview with the Dubai-based station al-Arabiya on Thursday.
"Just because one is in an Arab country or one is practicing the Muslim faith, to suggest that, therefore, you are denied the benefits of democracy, I think is a false choice. Democracy can coexist with any faith," Mr. Powell said in a separate interview with the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa.
Administration officials said that any differences between Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell should be viewed as a reflection of the uncertainty in the administration on how to handle Iraq's internal politics rather than as an internal policy fight.
Large demonstrations in recent days by Shi'ites in Iraq, aimed at driving the U.S.-led forces out of the country, have raised concerns in Washington that they might try to import the example of Iran.
Since 1979, Iran has been ruled by Muslim clerics who see the United States as "the Great Satan."
In Iraq, Shi'ites have been organizing local committees, doling out funds to pay salaries, collecting looted property and sending militias to secure hospitals and electric plants raising concerns that some may try to install a theocracy.
Leading Shi'ites have been reluctant to take part in the process of forming an interim civilian authority led by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
The influential Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq boycotted Mr. Garner's first meeting last week in southern Iraq and is expected to do so again when he brings various groups together in Baghdad on Monday.
After Friday prayers, clerics across Iraq spoke about the need for Shi'ites and Sunnis to come together to create an Islamic state, the Associated Press reported.
"We have to be ready in the long term to establish our own Islamic state," said Asaad al-Nasseri, a prominent Shi'ite cleric who just returned from exile in Syria, speaking to the crowd in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
In southeastern Iraq, a Shi'ite cleric who took over the city hall in Kut and claimed control of the city left the building peacefully, U.S. military officials said yesterday. Marines say Said Abbas is a member of the Iran-based Supreme Council.
Shi'ite Muslims are at least 60 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million.
A million Shi'ites went on a pilgrimage to a holy site in the central city of Karbala earlier this week for the first time since 1977 a development Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday called "free expression and religious liberty."
"But it should not be taken to indicate that the majority of Iraqis oppose the coalition objectives in Iraq," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary also instructed Mr. Garner, who said on Thursday that parts of the interim authority could be set up by next week, to delay the turnover of ministries and other government agencies.
The turnover "really has got to proceed at a pace that the Iraqi people are comfortable with," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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