Iraqi dissidents agree on transitional government

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

LONDON -- Iraqi exiles reached agreement Monday on which religious sects and political movements should make up the leadership committee they hope will become a transitional government if Saddam Hussein is ousted.

But they were forced to extend their conference until today to resolve disagreements over which individuals should fill the seats allocated to each group on the 50-member committee.

A key sticking point was whether a single Iranian-based Shiite Muslim opposition group should exclusively represent Iraq's majority Shiites -- whose politics range from liberal to Islamist.

One delegate, who asked to remain anonymous, said several opposition groups were concerned that allowing the Tehran-based Shiite group to represent all Iraqi Shiites could pave the way for Iran to interfere in Iraq's future politics.

The 300 delegates have been meeting since Friday in what was originally scheduled as a three-day session to decide who would lead Iraq to democracy if Hussein's dictatorship falls.

By Monday, they had agreed on a leadership committee composed of 50 seats: 16 for Shiite Muslims; 10 for Kurds; four each for two broad-based umbrella groups -- the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress -- and for a group that wants to bring back the Iraqi monarchy; two for Sunni Muslims not linked to formal groups and 10 for other independents.

But a final pact was blocked by disagreements over whether the strongest opposition party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, could claim all 16 Shiite seats.

"Shiites are divided between Islamists, liberals and others," said Mowaffak Al Rubaia, a delegate to the conference who is in the conservative, or Islamist, Shiite camp. "Nobody can claim that he stands for all these trends."

Each opposition faction wants to be included in the policy committee because many believe it would serve as a transitional government if Saddam is toppled. Sunni Arabs, while a minority in Iraq, have controlled politics and the military there for decades. The Sunnis have complained that the numerically superior Shiites and Kurds have dominated the London talks.

The United States, which has threatened to topple Saddam for stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, helped organize the London meeting to prepare Iraq's political future.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Monday the Bush administration is committed to working "very closely" with opposition groups dedicated to Saddam's ouster.

"The United States has sent a very clear message to people in this conference, as well as to people around the world ... that we support a democratically oriented Iraq, an Iraq that is whole, (where) the integrity of the borders remain intact," he said.

Delegates on Sunday settled on a list of 49 officials of the current Iraqi regime -- including Saddam and his two sons -- who should face trial, and others who should be granted amnesty.

"This committee will issue a general amnesty and start national reconciliation after regime change in Iraq," conference spokesman Hamid al-Bayati told reporters.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan has dismissed the conference, saying he does not pay attention to "what is called the Iraqi opposition."

Members of the U.S. Congress have expressed concern that a post-Saddam Iraq would descend into chaos. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the dissident Iraqi National Congress, said the London conference was sending a strong message to Washington that the Iraqi exiles could forge a united front.

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