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Influential US Senators Warn Washington Must Lay Iraqi Government Foundation With Care - 2003-12-07

Two influential U.S. senators say the United States must proceed with great care in helping to lay the foundation for a future Iraqi government, or risk engendering animosity that could imperil U.S. objectives in the country.

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut recently returned from a trip to Iraq and says he is troubled by a lack of consensus on the best way to chose a transitional government, currently slated to be in place by next June. Mr. Dodd, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the U.S. television program, CNN's Late Edition.

We [the United States] need to make sure that the interim authority is chosen properly. If we try to hand-pick that authority contrary to what the Iraqi people want, then we could make a huge mistake. We better be very careful. If we do not have a government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people pretty soon over there, then we are going to be asked to [leave Iraq]," he said.

An influential Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric is demanding direct elections for a transitional government, while U.S. officials favor an indirect, caucus-style procedure. Senator Dodd says, however the new leaders are chosen, the process must have the broad backing of the Iraqi people and the participation of the United Nations.

On that point, he got no argument from a Republican colleague, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who spoke on the same program. "The United Nations and the internationalization of this effort is absolutely critical to the outcome and the interests of all of us," he said.

Mr. Hagel added that, ultimately, Iraqis themselves will be responsible for the government they chose. "You cannot impose a Jeffersonian democracy on anyone. If, in fact, the premise here is to allow the Iraqis to govern themselves, then they are going to have to make those choices themselves," he said.

Also appearing on Late Edition was Jordan's King Abdullah, who cautioned that some segments of Iraqi society are better-prepared to participate in direct elections than others. "If you are going to have elections, you have to give all the constituencies in Iraq a fair chance. If we are keeping to the July (2004) deadline, there needs to be some homework done to make sure that all of Iraqi society has a fair chance at elections. At the moment some groups are much more organized than others," he said.

The Jordanian monarch added that an eventual U.S. disengagement from Iraq must be orderly and well thought-out so as not to leave the populace in what he called an "impossible situation."