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US Promises Iraqis Will Soon Run Interim Government - 2003-05-05

The U.S. official in charge of helping reconstruct Iraq has announced that a team of nine Iraqi political leaders will soon run an interim administration in the country. And 59 Iraqi prisoners of war returned from Iran after more than two decades in prison there.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the returning prisoners of war may be the last to be handed over by Iran. More than 880 returned to Iraq mid-March, just a few days before U.S.-led coalition forces launched the war that ousted Saddam Hussein from power.

Iraq and Iran fought for eight years in the 1980s, leaving more than one million dead. The Red Cross says it has already supervised the repatriation of about 97,000 Iranian and Iraqi POWs, but another 70,000 from both sides are listed as missing.

Meanwhile, Retired U.S. General Jay Garner has announced that nine political leaders representing a cross-section of Iraq's ethnic and religious factions will soon form an interim government.

The team includes the leaders of two Kurdish parties, as well as a politician and a military officer who have returned from decades in exile.

Since the end of the war three weeks ago, Iraqis have complained about the political vacuum that has left them feeling insecure and uncertain about the future.

Mr. Garner said the team will probably include Masoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdish Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, is also on the list. He returned recently to Iraq, after more than 30 years in exile.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of the leader of a leading Shiite organization, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is also likely to join the team. So will an exiled Iraqi general who heads the Iraqi National Accord.

Mr. Garner expects the team will also include a Christian leader and another Sunni Muslim.

One of the many political challenges for the interim administration is to safeguard the unity of a country made up of diverse, often rival, ethnic and religious factions, as well as insiders and outsiders - those who have returned to Iraq since the war ended.

An example of achieving that delicate balance was evident in the northern city of Mosul, which elected a 24-member interim city council in its first elections since Saddam's ouster.

The delegates elected an Arab mayor, a Kurdish deputy mayor and two assistant mayors from the Turkmen and Assyrian Christian communities.