- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Iraqi opposition leaders are to meet in Baghdad today to work toward establishing an Iraqi interim authority by the end of next month, and discuss how the process can be integrated into U.S. efforts to rebuild the nation, opposition officials said yesterday.
All the principal opposition leaders who fought in exile to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein are to attend the meeting, which is a continuation of a political process that kicked off in London last year, said Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokeswoman Riva Levinson.
The meeting comes on the heels of a U.S.-sponsored political forum in the capital that brought together some 300 Iraqis from different political, ethnic and religious entities to discuss the future of the country.
"It was agreed that within a month there could be an interim government," said Mrs. Levinson in Washington. "This is a part of that process, and we are likely to see all of the major party leaders" present at today's meeting, she said.
Mrs. Levinson said the Iraqi political leaders also would focus on bringing political figures who had lived under Saddam's regime into the leadership council.
The conference which takes place as the U.S. civil administrator, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, continues to set up shop was viewed by the INC as one of the critical steps to building a legitimate interim authority.
Attending the meeting will be the leaders of the INC, Ahmed Chalabi; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Talabani; the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Massoud Barzani; the Iraqi National Accord (INA), Iyad Allawi; and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abdulaziz al-Hakim, younger brother of the group's Tehran-based leader.
"They are going to discuss the political situation now and the future, and the political approaches for selecting an Iraqi government," said SCIRI spokesman Hamid al-Bayati.
SCIRI, which has a powerful Shi'ite following, has been skeptical of the U.S.-directed political process. The group boycotted the first meeting led by Mr. Garner in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah two weeks ago.
Mr. Garner has said he hopes to reopen a number of Iraqi ministries as soon as next week. He insisted that the ministries would be run by Iraqis, albeit under the supervision of officials chosen by the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
"We would like to see an Iraqi process to select an Iraqi government," emphasized Mr. al-Bayati, speaking from London.
"If we can actually work some kind of middle way, that is up to the [Iraqi] leadership first, then up to Jay Garner. We can't have two processes going together. We need some solution," he said.

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