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Factions to meet again on post-war Iraq

A US-sponsored forum to begin shaping Iraq's post-war Govt concluded with an agreement to meet again in 10 days..

india Updated: Apr 16, 2003 12:28 IST

A US-sponsored forum on Tuesday to begin shaping Iraq's post-war government concluded with an agreement to meet again in 10 days, a senior US government official said.

Some Shiite Muslim groups boycotted and protested the gathering in which representatives from some of Iraq's many factions met in the biblical birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner opened the conference, held under a golden tent next to the famous ziggurat ruins. White House envoy Zalmay Khalilizad told delegates that the United States has "no interest, absolutely no interest, in ruling Iraq."

Participants at the meeting at Tallil air base included Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites from inside the country as well as others who have spent years in exile. US officials invited the groups, but each picked their own representatives.

However, many Iraqis boycotted the meeting in opposition to US plans to install retired Garner as head of an interim administration. Thousands of Shiites demonstrated in nearby Nasiriyah, chanting "No to America and no to Saddam!"

"Iraq needs an Iraqi interim government. Anything other than this tramples the rights of the Iraqi people and will be a return to the era of colonization," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, a leader of the largest Iraqi Shiite group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of the leaders of al-Daawa Party, an influential Shiite group, turned down his invitation.

"We have our reservations against attending a meeting called for by a military side," he said. "We don't know who is taking part in the meeting, their political ideology or their political identity and background. We don't know the exact aim of the meeting."

Overall, he said, foreign intervention that is "exerting pressure on certain Iraqi opposition groups and favouring others" would weaken the Iraqi groups.

US officials hope more Iraqis join the process over time.

"It's critical that the world understand that this is only the fledgling first meeting of what will hopefully be a much larger series of meetings across Iraq," said Jim Wilkinson, spokesman at US Central Command.

A national conference is planned ultimately to select the interim administration, perhaps within weeks, said a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The interim administration could begin handing power back to Iraqi officials within three to six months, but forming a government will take longer, said Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the top British member of Garner's team.

"Will we get a complete government in place in that time? I doubt it," Cross said. "One has to go through the process of building from the bottom up, allowing the leadership to establish itself, and then the election process to go through and so forth. That full electoral process may well take longer."

Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance is charged with coordinating humanitarian assistance, rebuilding infrastructure shattered by years of war and UN sanctions, and gradually handing back power to Iraqis leading a democratically elected government.

Tuesday's meeting was the first step toward that goal after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

First Published: Apr 15, 2003 21:21 IST