- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

IRBIL, Iraq, Feb. 19 (UPI) — Iraqi opponents of Saddam Hussein announced Wednesday the postponement of a meeting set for Thursday because bad weather kept many of the participants from getting to it.

At a joint press conference in Irbil, senior representatives of the two parties that control an area of Northern Iraq outside Saddam's control said that only 30 members of a committee set up in London last December had so far been able to arrive. The meeting was to take place in the resort hill town of Salahudin near Irbil that is also the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Hoshyar Zibari, the veteran international affairs aide to KDP leader Masud Barzani, said there were compelling reasons for a further postponement of the already oft-postponed meeting. The meeting required a quorum of 50 of the 65 committee members, he said.

Latif Rashid, London representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Jalal Talabani, insisted the meeting would be held despite the postponement. "There is a common determination by all factions of the Iraqi opposition to hold the meeting," he said.

The PUK and the KDP each govern a part of Northern Iraq, home to that country's large Kurdish minority. The areas are protected by the U.S. and British-enforced no-fly zone.

Well-informed Kurdish officials elsewhere told United Press International that some members of the opposition did not favor holding the meeting. Moreover, these officials said, the U.S. envoy to the Iraqi opposition in exile, Zalmay Khalilzad, was reluctant to attend although he has said he would do so.

The United States does not want the opposition to declare an Iraqi government-in-exile, Western analysts said. Washington fears that the committee meeting in Iraq might be an occasion to do just that.

For their part, the Iraqi opposition fears the United States will ignore it and impose a military government that would work with officials drawn from the existing Baath Party regime.

As if to confirm American fears, Rashid said Wednesday that when the meeting takes place it will discuss the structure of a transitional period following Saddam's expected ouster in a U.S.-led military intervention that the opposition believes is virtually certain. Also on its agenda were construction and development matters, constitutional and legal issues, and foreign and internal relations.

As well as the KDP and PUK, opposition groups expected to take part in the meeting are the Iraq National Congress, an umbrella organization of various opposition bodies, and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia Arab organization based in and backed by Iran.

Britain, Turkey, and Iran are expected to send observers to the meeting if and when it takes place.

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