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9 Iraqi Opposition Leaders Promise United, Multiparty Democracy - 2003-01-28

Iraqi opposition leaders said they are united in seeking regime change and democracy for Iraq. In what was billed as the first independently organized public debate on Iraq's future since the return of U.N. weapons inspectors last November, nine Iraqi opposition leaders pledged their commitment to a united, multi-party democracy in Iraq.

Leaders of the largest ethnic group in Northern Iraq, the Kurds, say they have established democracy in their region during the past 12 years. They say they see the possibility of developing democracy in the rest of the country after the fall of President Saddam Hussein.

Hosheyar Zebari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party said the Kurds want to work with other Iraqis to make democracy a reality. "We believe we have no future alone unless we work together to build the new Iraq. We have no future unless we the Kurdish parties, who are now the strongest on the ground, can play an effective part in the new Iraqi government, even in terms of demographic composition, in terms of ethnic composition. We believe we can play a balancing and a moderate influence to stabilize the country," Mr. Zebari said.

The leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq Adil Mahdi said only a democratic system and strong civil institutions will empower all the people of Iraq.

"Instead of having a mighty state and a weak, deprived society, we have to strengthen society," Mr. Mahdi said.

Mr. Mahdi said Iraq's oil production should be increased to provide the funds needed to rebuild the country and lay the basis for democratic institutions.

Other leaders from the Iraqi National Congress, the Turkmen and the Dawwa parties agree that outside military help is needed to bring regime change in Baghdad. But they say they are united in their opposition to foreign military occupation of the country.

At a meeting in London in December, the Iraqi Opposition formed a 65-member committee designed to prepare a future government for Iraq. The committee is to meet in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq next month to begin its work.