- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

After over a month of delay and intense negotiations with the White House, the Iraqi opposition today is set to convene its first formal conference on Iraqi soil in more than a decade.
The site of the meeting is Salahuddin, the Kurdish-controlled town where Iraq's disparate opposition met in October 1992 to form a unified front under the banner of the Iraqi National Congress.
A statement from the INC says the group expects to "elect a leadership that will represent the Iraqi people through the next critical phase of the liberation of Iraq." Earlier this month, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith told Congress that the United States planned for the short term to install a military government in Baghdad, in the event that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was ousted, but that this body would rely on a panel of Iraqis for advice.
The meeting in Salahuddin will be the first formal gathering of a new 65-member opposition committee formed in December at a conference in London, partially paid for by the State Department. Much of the opposition arrived in northern Iraq in January after meetings in Tehran with senior Iranian diplomats, military leaders and intelligence officers. A group supported by Iran, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, controls the largest political bloc on the committee.
The opposition is careful to say it will not be announcing a government in exile.
"The declaration of a government should be done once the liberation of the country starts," Entifadh Qanbar, the INC's Washington representative, told United Press International yesterday.
He added that the announcement at this time of a government in exile would endanger the Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq, possibly inviting retaliation from Saddam.
Such an announcement, however, has been a topic of debate between the opposition and the White House. Two U.S. officials tell UPI that the president's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad, specifically told the dissidents earlier this month not to announce an exile government at this juncture, citing concerns from Iraq's neighbors.
Turkey, whose parliament is expected to vote on whether to give the United States permission to set up a base for more than 62,000 troops for six months, has specifically asked the White House to dismantle the Kurdish regional government as well as militias in northern Iraq when Saddam's government falls.
"We believe the future organization and structuring of Iraq is a matter for all the people of Iraq," Turkey's ambassador to Washington, O. Faruk Logoglu, told UPI yesterday. "That means it has to be decided by all the major populations in Iraq, the Kurds, Turkmen, the Assyrians and others."


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