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Iraqi Opposition Leaders Plan Democracy Conference in Nasiriyah - 2003-04-08

Exiled Iraqi opposition leaders have outlined plans to move Iraq from dictatorship to democracy, even as fighting continues in their homeland.

Iraqi opposition figures have told reporters in London a democracy conference is planned for Saturday in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

They say the meeting will bring together exiled Iraqis and domestic opponents of the Saddam Hussein government to begin discussing post-war governance. The leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, is already in Nasiriyah.

The Iraqi opposition is fractured along religious and ethnic lines. There are several competing organizations representing Shia and Sunni Muslim communities, and the Kurdish minority of northern Iraq. But the exiled leaders say there is broad agreement among them on a democratic, multi-ethnic future for Iraq.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the officials say, the American and British armies will have to police Iraq and meet its humanitarian needs.

"We need an interim power to keep law and order in the country. And that, I feel, it is the responsibility of the incoming army, the coalition, the United States, and Britain," said Salah Shaikhy, who represents the Iraqi National Accord.

The Iraqi exiles are skeptical about the role the United Nations may play in a post-war Iraq. "We believe that the less U.N. role given for executive power in Iraq, the better," said Latif Rashid, who is from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. "We have had bad experience with the U.N. having executive power in Iraq."

The would-be king of Iraq, Sharif Ali Bin Hussein of the Monarchist Constitutional Movement, said Iraqis do not need outside help to form a new government to replace Saddam Hussein.

"We are not a failed state. We are not a state in civil war. We are just a population that has been ruled by a dictatorship. Once that leadership of that dictatorship is removed from power, authority should be transferred to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible," he said.

The exiled figures say they aim to hold a broad-based conference within a few months to form an interim Iraqi authority. They say that would lead to an elected government some 12 to 20 months later.