The first talks on the future of Iraq – including members of the former Iraqi opposition and U.S. officials – were held in southern Iraq Tuesday – ending with an agreement to meet again in 10 days. Amy Katz has more.
As many as one hundred representatives of Iraqi opposition and resistance groups met – under tight security -- at the U.S.-controlled Tallil air base near Nasiriyah. Participants included Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others who had spent years in exile.
They met with the head of the U.S. military administration for Iraq – retired U-S Army General Jay Garner -- as well as U.S. President George W. Bush’s personal envoy – Zalmay Khalilzad.
General Garner opened the forum.
GENERAL JAY GARNER, U.S. IRAQ ADMINSTRATOR
“What better birthday can a man have than to begin it, not only where civilization began, but where a free Iraq and a democratic Iraq will begin today?”
Mr. Khalilzad urged the Iraqi factions to cooperate with each other and stressed that the U.S. has no intention of ruling Iraq. Iraq’s main Shiite group boycotted the meeting because it says the Iraqi people will not accept an administration imposed by foreigners.
NATURAL SOUND PEOPLE PROTESTING
That was also the message from thousands of Iraqi citizens -- who took to the streets – across the country Tuesday – to protest the meeting – many chanting, “No to America, no to Saddam.”
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell characterized the meeting as “important” – calling it a new phase in the history of Iraq.
COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
“They began a discussion about their future, a future that will be free of tyranny, a future that will be free of dictators, a future that will be based on democracy.”
Meanwhile, in Germany Tuesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met to discuss post-war Iraq. They agreed the United Nations should play a “vital role.”