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Iraqi Opposition Forms Coordinating Committee at London Meeting - 2002-12-17

Iraqi opposition leaders have ended a four-day meeting in London with the formation of a 65-member committee they hope will be the nucleus of a post-Saddam Hussein government.

After days of argument and discussion, more than 300 delegates at the London conference believe they have planted a seed that could grow into a government to replace Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Under a U.S.-brokered agreement, the delegates announced the formation of the committee, which will represent the anti-Hussein opposition movement.

There was much haggling over the committee's makeup, and some smaller Kurdish and Shi'ite factions stormed out of the conference. One group, the Kurdish Islamic Movement, accused the United States and Iran of manipulating the conference's outcome.

Conference leaders held frequent consultations with President Bush's special envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad, who helped mediate their disputes.

At the end of the conference, Ahmed Chalabi of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress said the international community should now topple Saddam Hussein because they backed him in the first place.

"The Iraqi people have asked the international community for assistance," said Mr. Chalabi. "We believe that the international community participated in empowering Saddam Hussein so that he can suppress the Iraqi people. Now it is up to the international community to help the Iraqi people redress the balance and get rid of Saddam."

Mr. Chalabi said the new 65-member coordinating committee will meet in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq around January 15 to choose its leadership.

"During that meeting the committee will choose sub-committees and officers to organize itself through and during its meetings and this will make the committee effective and relevant to the momentous events that are going to happen soon," said Mr. Chalabi.

The conference also issued a final document laying out democratic principles for a future government in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the state-run media ridiculed the Iraqi opposition without mentioning the conference. A commentary on Iraqi television called the opposition leaders traitors, and said U.S. efforts to depose Saddam Hussein will fail.