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US says Future of Iraq to  Be Decided by Iraqis - 2003-03-01

The United States said Friday it would not recognize the leadership council being formed by Iraqi opposition leaders as a provisional government. It says both exile figures and the people in Iraq should participate in a new government, if Saddam Hussein were to be deposed.

The Bush administration has been represented at the meetings of the Iraqi opposition being held in Kurdish-held northern Iraq. And it has been making clear both at those deliberations and here in Washington that there will be no U.S. recognition of a Iraqi government-in-exile or provisional government.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the voices of the vast majority of Iraqis who have been living under Saddam Hussein's rule would have to be heard in the formation of a successor government.

"We believe that trying to create a government of people prior to the liberation of the country would in effect disenfranchise the vast majority of Iraqis who continue to live inside Iraq - sadly, under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," he said. "Their voices need to be heard as well. That's why we support and have continued to support the idea that the future of Iraq needs to be decided by Iraqis both inside and outside the country and haven't supported creation of a provisional government at this time."

Mr. Boucher declined under questioning to say what stake, if any, the exile leaders should have in a replacement government.

He said ultimately the Iraqi people need to be given the mechanisms to choose their own government, their own representatives, and that the United States will continue to work with the opposition.

The United States was represented at the meetings, in the northern Iraqi town of Salahaddin, by White House special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who played a key role in helping form the post-Taleban government in Afghanistan.

He told delegates a future government in Baghdad has to include those, who "have suffered under Saddam."

Delegates at the meeting have been openly concerned that bureaucrats from the current Baathist regime might be allowed to take part in governing after U.S.-led intervention, and that rule by a U.S. military administration might be prolonged.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior U.S. officials have given no timetable but have spoken of a speedy transition of power, if military action took place, from U.S. generals to an appointed civilian authority and then to Iraqi civilian rule.

The Iraqi opposition leaders have named a six-member leadership council and also formed 14 committees whose functions would roughly match those of government ministries.