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US Officials Oppose Formation of Exile Iraqi Provisional Government - 2003-03-27

The United States said Thursday it opposes plans by Iraqi exile figures to set up a provisional government for the country in anticipation of the fall of Saddam Hussein. The State Department says the move, announced by Iraqi opposition politicians meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, would "disenfranchise" the majority of Iraqis still under the control of the current government.

The Bush administration has had a number of policy differences with Iraq exile groups, and it is making clear its disapproval of any early declaration of a provisional government to succeed Saddam Hussein's regime.

At a meeting in the northern Iraqi town of Salahuddin, an assembly of factions, the Council of the Leadership of the Iraqi Opposition, said Thursday it intended, upon the "liberation" of Iraq, to set up an independent, provisional government to run the country.

The council said the provisional government would be a coalition of exile politicians and those now inside what were termed "Saddam-occupied areas," and would negotiate transitional arrangements with the United States and United Nations, including a "time-line" for the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Iraq's future needs to be decided by the broadest-possible grouping of Iraqis, and that the views expressed at the Salahuddin meeting represented only the segment of Iraqis who took part in it.

"We do not support the creation of a provisional government by the outside Iraqi opposition at this time," he said. "We believe that creating a new government for the Iraqi people, prior to the liberation of the country, before those Iraqis inside Iraq can make their views known, would disenfranchise the vast majority of Iraqis who continue to live under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."

The Bush administration has already outlined detailed post-war governing plans for Iraq. It would begin with a U.S.-led military authority but give way quickly to a civilian administrator and then to a broad-based interim Iraqi authority.

Mr. Boucher said the interim authority must come from all of Iraq's ethnic groups and regions including Iraqis now under Saddam Hussein's rule, Kurds, and the external opposition, and that the exact mechanism for choosing its members will determined after the conflict is over.

He said that ultimately, the only way that there will be a legitimate government in Iraq is through free and fair elections.

The leadership council is dominated by the London-based Iraqi National Congress, which has long advocated a provisional government and has urged the United States to keep control of the country in Iraqi hands.

The United States was represented at the meeting in northern Iraq by its special envoy to the Iraqi opposition Zalmay Khalilzad, who is due to go on to Turkey late Friday for talks on the situation along the Turkish-Iraqi border.