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Iraq's Opposition Leaders Say Country Ready to Embrace Democracy - 2002-10-07

Iraqi opposition leaders say if Saddam Hussein is driven from power in a war with a U.S. led military coalition, Iraqis are ready to embrace the ideals of democracy and a western style economy. They are expressing concern, however, that time is running short for creation of a provisional government to lead Iraq in a post-Saddam era.

Leaders of the Iraqi opposition say once Saddam Hussein's reign is over, the country will be ready to eagerly accept the idea of a strong, democratic government to lead the nation into the future.

However, during a recent forum at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, some opposition leaders expressed concern about a lack of preparation for the so-called post-Saddam era.

Rend Rahim Francke is the executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy and human rights in Iraq.

Ms. Francke says she is worried that more needs to be done prior to the start of any conflict, to create a transitional government of leaders who oppose Saddam Hussein. "I feel very concerned because this is a great disadvantage and we are not going to have very much time. This kind of formation, political formation, needs to begin now and needs to be done by Iraqis and needs to be supported by the U.S. administration and this is where I see the administration sorely lacking," she said.

Siyamend Othman is an Iraqi analyst and a Kurd who has worked for Amnesty International investigating human rights violations in Arab countries in the Middle East.

Mr. Othman says many Iraqis are concerned that previous U.S. policies, including support for tough U.N. sanctions, put in question America's support for the Iraqi people after the defeat of Saddam Hussein. "I think it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that Iraqis of all hues are both skeptical and apprehensive about the U.S. commitment to democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq. After all, it is not long ago that it was official U.S. government policy to keep the Iraqi people locked in a cage with their tormentor," he said.

Kanan Makiya, a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, says the transition to a democratic Iraq sets the stage for major positive changes for the entire Middle East. "The removal of this regime presents the United States in particular, with a historic opportunity that I believe is going to prove to be as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the entry of British troops into Iraq in 1917," he said. "Iraq is not Afghanistan. It is rich enough, and developed enough, and has the human resources to become as great a force for democracy and economic reconstruction in the Arab and Muslim world as it has been a force for autocracy and destruction in the past," he said.

Ahmad Chalabi is the president of the Iraqi National Congress and has been active in the exiled political opposition to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Mr. Chalabi says any transitional government formed soon outside the country to lead Iraq after a war would be completely supportive of action to topple the current Iraqi leader. "This government should be the ally of the United States in this coming military conflict, which we do not see as a war between Iraq and the United States, but rather as a war of national liberation that the Iraqi people are waging and that the United States has now for its own purposes decided to support and to win," he said.

Mr. Chalabi says a provisional coalition government would provide a safe haven for Iraqi troops who decide to defect, deal with humanitarian problems that may arise and provide emergency relief and food to people in the immediate aftermath of a war with a U.S.-led coalition.

The opposition leader says a post-war Iraqi government will be able to afford to rebuild the nation because of the wealth that is available due to the country's huge oil reserves.

Mr. Chalabi says a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq will strengthen and help stabilize the Middle East.