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AFTER THE WAR

Likely Leaders Emerge in Iraq

The official in charge of reconstruction describes U.S. plans for an interim government, set to take shape by mid-May. Exiles may dominate.

May 06, 2003|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — U.S. officials gave the first details Monday of their plan for an interim Iraqi government, saying it will be headed by a council of as many as nine leaders and suggesting that the majority would be drawn from Iraqi exile groups that have yet to demonstrate much popular support here.

Although a new transitional government will not be chosen until the end of the month, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, said five men had already begun meeting and would probably be part of the council. "By the middle of the month you'll really see a beginning of a nucleus of an Iraqi government, with an Iraqi face on it, that is dealing with the coalition," Garner said before leaving Baghdad for a two-day visit to the southern city of Basra.

Garner identified the five Iraqi leaders as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord and Abdelaziz Hakim of the Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Garner's announcement came amid growing criticism that the U.S.-led effort to rebuild the country was languishing. The much-anticipated return of police to the streets of Baghdad was limited Monday to a few traffic officers, most of whom were working without guns in a city echoing with gunfire and who were still awaiting their promised $20 emergency stipend.

Although 135,000 allied troops occupy the country, neither they nor Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance govern it.

The vacuum left after the swift collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime can be felt in cities and villages throughout Iraq, with clan leaders reclaiming long-lost power and Shiite religious leaders asserting authority over municipal services in several cities. One notable exception to the ongoing political chaos is Mosul, which Monday became the country's first major city to establish an elected government. The 24-man interim city council was chosen by 150 delegates at a convention of religious, ethnic and tribal leaders.

Though Garner did not spell out the selection process for the five men who are already meeting on a nascent national council, they are well-known leaders of some of the largest exile opposition groups to emerge over the last decade -- groups that have received U.S. support. The two Kurdish leaders have been living in northern Iraq, which has essentially functioned as a separate country since 1991. The other three men have been out of the country for many years, because Hussein had squelched all internal rivals to the ruling Baath Party.

Representatives of Sunni Muslims and Iraqi Christians might be added to the leadership group, Garner said. Chalabi, Hakim and Allawi are Shiite Muslims, though few Shiites claim Chalabi as their leader and Allawi heads a Sunni-dominated, though secular-leaning, organization. Garner gave no hint that more Shiites, who make up 60% of the population, might be included.

Though leaders of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq have said they do not favor an Iran-style regime for Iraq, several fundamentalist Shiite parties do want Iraq to become a religion-based Islamic republic, a construction strongly opposed by the Bush administration.

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Criticism From Imam

In carefully worded criticism of the plan, Sheik Khamal Jawad Chochachi, imam at Baghdad's sprawling Khadamia Mosque, said "it would be better if there would be three or four more" Shiites on the council. "That would be more fair," he said.

The interim government is officially to be chosen by Iraqi delegates at a meeting late this month, and a spokesman for Chalabi emphasized that the leadership choices were "not set in stone." But with opposition groups now clearly driving the process, it would seem natural that the five men leading the top opposition groups be selected, said the spokesman, Zaab Sethna.

In his statement, Garner indicated that the U.S. recognized that its failure to get essential public services back in operation was costing it the goodwill of many Iraqis and that it is serious about installing a transitional government quickly.

"The month of May is a key month" for getting all the public services up and running "and getting the law enforcement system back," he told reporters.

For the few Iraqis who know his name, Garner had become a primary target of complaint. Bush administration officials disclosed plans last week to place a former State Department official over Garner.

L. Paul Bremer III, a former ambassador and head of the State Department's counter-terrorism office who is expected to arrive in Iraq by next week, will oversee all political and reconstruction efforts.

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