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Dissidents, Analysts Discuss Future of Iraq - 2003-02-13

Iraqi dissidents and independent analysts are discussing how to shape new leadership in Iraq, in the event that Saddam Hussein is removed from power. They are raising concerns about the potential for civil conflict in Iraq, unless there is a concerted effort at reconciliation among ethnic communities.

Exiled Iraqi dissidents working on a political framework for the future say they are worried that political bickering among Iraq's Kurds, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and smaller ethnic minorities could disrupt any efforts to implement democratic reform.

Hatem Mukhlis is co-founder of the opposition group, Iraqi National Movement. He raises fears of vendettas and revenge killings immediately after any ouster of Saddam Hussein, which would mostly target his ruling elite. "Every family in Iraq had a taste of what Saddam has done," he said. "And seeking revenge could become the norm in Iraq, and that would definitely be detrimental to the endeavors that we have to bring Iraqis together. The mother of all fears is another dictator."

U.S. officials have been talking about how to administer Iraq, if Saddam Hussein is removed from power. One strategy would temporarily put an American commander in charge, to maintain law and order, and help supervise nation-building efforts.

Some exiled Iraqi dissident politicians have balked at that idea, insisting that Iraqis themselves should take control, as quickly as possible.

Leith Kubba, who works for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, has joined other exiled Iraqi professionals to develop a framework for Iraq's transition. One challenge, he has said, is to keep squabbling opposition groups and tribal leaders from turning a transitional administration into a grab for power. "If they fight over power-and they will, if power is given to them now, to these political groups, prior to setting the rules [of] how they can get power, or share power-if power is simply thrown at them now, it will lead to a fight, and a fight will lead to dictatorship, because that's the only way to have stability, after all," said Leith Kubba.

Jihan Hajibadri is an Iraqi Kurd. Trained as a civil engineer, she is currently pursuing studies in conflict resolution. She recently told a Washington conference that any reconciliation effort in Iraq must take into account decades of political disenfranchisement. "The root cause of conflict stems from the fact of one group imposing its identity on the rest, and holding the majority of power, while it constitutes a minority of the population," she said.

The ruling Sunni elite, she points out, represents less than one third of Iraq's population of 24 million. The larger minority groups, including the Kurds and the Shiite Muslims, have been mostly excluded from any positions of power under Saddam Hussein's rule.

For that reason, analysts like Rend Rahim Francke stress the need for building a national political identity that crosses sectarian divides that have polarized the country. Ms. Francke runs the Iraq Foundation, which promotes democracy and human rights in Iraq. "They need to take an initiative that is citizenship and national identity, that combines Sunni and Shia and Kurds and Christians, to create a new vision for Iraq that counter-balances and tries to mitigate this identity politics that is going on now, and is likely to be even stronger in the future," said Rend Rahim Francke.

Ms. Francke echoes calls by Iraqi exiles for decentralizing power, and distributing more resources throughout the country. She warns against a federalized state that essentially turns ethnic groups into political ghettos. "You do not want to have the kind of federalism, or devolution, where people are walled in from each other," she said. "That is not the idea. It should be something that should bring government to the people, allows a lot of local decision-making, but not for the purpose of erecting walls."

Ms Francke says, the focus should be on rebuilding a political psychology and infrastructure that can reverse decades of authoritarian rule.