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Chalabi says will play no role in interim Govt

Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi said on Friday a democratic government would be formed within two years - but that he would play no role in any interim administration.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2003 03:08 IST

Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi, freshly arrived in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, said on Friday a democratic government would be formed within two years - but that he would play no role in any interim administration.

"I am not a candidate for any position in the interim government," Chalabi told a news conference of nearly 100 reporters. "My role is to help rebuild Iraq."

Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) who enjoys support from the Pentagon, said Iraq would have a three-step transition from US occupation.

The first stage would be US-led forces getting essential services up and running. This would last for "weeks not months" and be headed by retired US general Jay Garner who has been designated as Iraq's civil administrator.

He said the second stage would involve the creation of an interim government of Iraqis which would draft a constitution.

The third phase would be democratic elections. "I expect this process to take not more than two years," added Chalabi, who said he had been involved in talks with the Americans and other Iraqi leaders.

Chalabi, a 57-year-old wealthy businessman formerly based in London, has been travelling across the country and had spent nearly two months in Kurdish-held northern Iraq ahead of the US-British invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday evening.

The highly visible Chalabi has been seen by some as the only viable head of a future Iraqi government. To date, two Iraqis have stepped forward and claimed leadership positions, Mohammed Mohsen Zubeidi, and "General" Jaudat Obeidi of the INC.

The US military has distanced itself from Zubeidi and Obeidi saying neither had been sanctioned for any official position.

However, while Chalabi has won the popularity contest in Washington his support base remains unknown in Iraq, which he fled in 1958.

In Nasiriyah earlier this week, Chalabi faced angry protests by 20,000 fellow Shiite Muslims, and US soldiers were on the verge of using tear gas amid charges the INC leader was now a stranger to his homeland and too close to the Americans.

Chalabi, surrounded at the news conference by gun-toting members of the US-backed Free Iraq Forces, countered such criticism, arguing the spirit of the Iraqi people had not been broken by 24 years of dictatorship under Saddam.

"And, the US does not want to run Iraq. That is not the policy of the US, that is what President (George W.) Bush has said and I believe him," he said.

"Iraqi people will not be puppets to anyone."

He said the United Nations should have only a limited role in a post-war Iraq and he reserved his harshest criticisms for France and Germany following their opposition to the US-led invasion.

"The UN has been less than helpful and dealt with Iraq under Saddam Hussein like it was a normal state.

"It did not recognise the seriousness of the oppression in Iraq ... their performance was less than stellar."

He said that even though France and Germany had been liberated from Nazism by the United States, they behaved like "de facto allies of Saddam Hussein."

But he quickly added: "We expect to have full diplomatic relations with every country in the world."

First Published: Apr 19, 2003 03:08 IST