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Iraq Opposition Leaders to Meet in Northern Iraq - 2003-02-21

Iraqi opposition leaders are expected to meet as early as Saturday in northern Iraq to continue discussions on scenarios for Iraq's political future in the event Saddam Hussein is removed from power. They remain divided over the kind of government that should oversee any transition.

The head of Iraq's main opposition group has warned the United States against trying to govern Iraq even temporarily if President Saddam Hussein is toppled. Ahmed Chalabi of the London-based Iraqi National Congress argues that Iraqis must continue to rule themselves, without any gap in leadership.

Mr. Chalabi has recently called a U.S. proposal to install a transitional military governor and to retain much of the existing Iraqi bureaucracy a recipe for disaster.

The Iraqi National Congress says Mr. Chalabi, currently in northern Iraq for a meeting of opposition leaders, cannot be reached for comment.

Another key figure of the umbrella group, Iraqi National Congress, Sherif Ali bin Al-Hussein, says the dispute has arisen from some opposition leaders seeking positions in a provisional government, before the possible fall of President Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Al-Hussein heads the Constitutional Monarchist Party, and is the last remaining relative of Iraq's former king. He says the Iraqi National Congress believes the United States will not get involved in politically running Iraq, but will turn over the administration to Iraqi hands at the earliest possible moment from military rule.

"It will be needed for, at maximum, a few months, and possibly even shorter," he said. "I think, there has been a misrepresentation of U.S. intentions. From intensive consultations with the United States, it is clear that their objectives are to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq, internal security and safety of citizens and to ensure the essential goods and services continue."

The Washington Post reported Friday on a plan by the Bush administration. It says an interim administration would be headed by a yet-to-be named American civilian, who would direct the country's reconstruction and the creation of a "representative" Iraqi government. But no time frame is mentioned.

It says some 20 to 25 Iraqis would assist U.S. authorities in a U.S.-appointed consultative council with no governing responsibility.

Mr. Al-Hussein says plans to select a provisional government for Iraq at the meeting of opposition leaders in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil have been put off at this juncture.

"Pressure from other members of the opposition have shelved that for the moment, although I believe the campaign will continue," he said. "I believe it is not a wise idea. As I said, we must not appoint ourselves as the future masters of Iraq. Our objective is to get the Iraqi people to choose who will govern Iraq."

Mr. Al-Hussein played down the importance of the Irbil meeting, saying a London conference of the Iraqi opposition in December was more significant. He says the Irbil meeting will follow up recommendations made in London.