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Iraqi Opposition Groups Meet Tuesday to Discuss Plans for Country's Future

U.S. officials are convening a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups Tuesday to discuss plans for the country's future. The meeting is to take place in the newly liberated town of Nasiriyah.

Anti-Saddam Hussein groups both from outside and inside Iraq will gather under U.S. auspices Tuesday to talk about the political structure of a post-war Iraq. The meeting has been put together by the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. military authority that is to rule Iraq, until power is turned over to an interim Iraqi civilian authority.

Speaking in Washington Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell played down expectations of any major developments from the meeting. "I think most of the groups outside the country and the resistance understand the need for starting in this way, with a modest beginning, so that we begin a dialogue," Mr. Powell said.

The United States has revealed little of its plans for post-war Iraq. Officials have not said how long the U.S. military will rule Iraq, who will constitute the Iraqi Interim Authority, how its members are to be chosen, and what powers it will have. But these are expected to be contentious issues, given the number of Iraqi opposition groups inside and outside the country - and the often deep divisions among them.

Rachel Bronson, head of Middle East Studies at the non-governmental Council on Foreign Relations, said the United States needs to spell out what she calls an "exit strategy" to gradually disengage from Iraq. "But it will be important to come up with a plan for exiting, whether that's an interim authority that they have been talking about, or something else. They are going to have to start spelling out what the authority of that interim authority, or something else, will be. So they will begin to have to articulate who will be part of this interim authority, what responsibilities the interim authority would have, and how that interim authority will ultimately transition into something else, sort of a permanent government structure," Ms. Bronson said.

There have been calls from some countries for the United Nations, rather than the United States, to run things in Iraq at first. The Bush administration has rejected that idea, saying the United Nations will play a "vital" role in post-war Iraq, but not the central one.

Ms. Bronson said the United Nations is not capable of running Iraq, anyway. "The U.N. can't and shouldn't run it. It can't lead Iraq. And it doesn't want that role. But it does have to be integral to some process," she said.

But some governments believe that, without U.N. backing, the Iraqi Interim Authority - however it is constituted - will lack international support. Ellie Goldsworthy is a former British intelligence officer, who now heads the U.K. Armed Forces Program at the Royal United Services Institute in London. She said restricting the United Nations to a humanitarian role will undercut the interim authority.

"The U.N. helping with that side of things doesn't confer the legitimacy that I think the whole world wants to see. And I think, the best means of conferring this type of legitimacy is getting a U.N. Security Council resolution that gives the interim authority legitimacy. And that would be a good way forward. But there are no signs at the moment that that's the way George Bush wants to go," Ms. Goldsworthy said.

There is no word on how long the Nasiriyah meeting will last.