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Iraqi Opposition Meeting Extended to Reach Agreement on Nation's Political Future - 2002-12-16

Iraqi opposition groups have extended their meeting in London after failing to reach agreement on the makeup of a committee to plan Iraq's political future if President Saddam Hussein is deposed.

More than 300 delegates at the London conference of Iraqi opposition groups had planned to end their meeting on Monday with the announcement of a coordinating committee on Iraq's future government.

But arguments over who should get seats on the panel, and who should be excluded, dragged on into the early hours Monday, and delegates have decided to continue deliberations until Tuesday.

The diverse Iraqi opposition factions see membership on the panel as crucial as they expect it will be a springboard to a transitional government inside Iraq if Saddam Hussein is toppled.

Another contentious issue has been a clause in the final document over whether a post-Hussein Iraq should be a republic or a constitutional monarchy.

A delegate from the Shi'ite Muslim faction, Mustafa al-Qazwini, said this is the kind of democratic debate the Iraqi opposition would like to see take place some day in Baghdad.

"I don't call it fighting. In fact, it's discussion and deliberation over the last statement of this conference, over the formation of the committee which will be representing the 350 delegates. And this is a healthy sign. We are talking about democracy and in order for us to establish a real democracy in Iraq we have to discuss all things," Mr. al-Qazwini said.

President Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalildad, has been meeting with delegates to try to help mediate their disputes.

Many of the Iraqi delegates say they would welcome a U.S.-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein, but they would reject any sort of post-war American military administration of Iraq.