Coalition, Factions Discuss Iraq’s Political Future
The representatives said in a statement read out at the end of the nearly 10-hour meeting, ”All efforts should be made to hold a national conference within four weeks … to select a transitional Iraqi government.”
White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told the Associated Press he hoped the selection process would follow such a timeline.
“Hopefully we will have this national meeting which will select or elect this interim authority,” he said.
Monday’s meeting took place on Saddam Hussein’s 66th birthday, which would have been an Iraqi holiday before the U.S.-led war. Retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the coalition’s Iraq administrator, led the meeting with a reference to the date’s symbolic significance.
“Today on the birthday of Saddam Hussein, let us start the democratic process for the children of Iraq,” he said, adding the coalition wanted to form “a democratic government which represents all people, all religions, all tribes.”
Many of the Iraqi delegates in the heavily guarded conference center protested a lack of security and infrastructure throughout the country now that Saddam’s government has been deposed.
“The lack of security threatens our newborn democracy. Security must be restored for this experience to survive,” Saadoun Dulaimi, a returned exiled politician, said.
Garner said restoring security is one of the coalition’s goals as it works to rebuild Iraq’s government.
“Before we can begin the reconstruction successfully we have to have security,” Garner told the gathering. “It is very difficult, but we will make it happen.”
Saad al-Bazzaz, a prominent Iraqi exile, told the Associated Press that some delegates had discussed the possibility of forming a “presidential council” of three to six members rather than a single Iraqi leader.
British Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien, the U.K.’s representative at the meeting, told Reuters he hoped a transitional Iraqi government would serve a limited term.
“I hope we then move to a constitutional assembly, then a referendum and a new constitution and then a directly and properly elected democratic government of Iraq,” he said.
As the conference continued, a split reportedly formed among delegates who favored a greater American role in the post-Saddam government, while many former exiles argued for a quick U.S. departure from Iraq.
The meeting was the second in a series of gatherings expected to last well into May. Members of various religious and ethnic factions – including Shiite and Sunni Muslims, northern Kurds, tribal chiefs and exiles returned from the West – attended the meeting, according to the Associated Press. Members of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which boycotted the first meeting, were in attendance this time.
However, Ahmed Chalabi, the U.S.-backed leader of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress, did not attend the meeting, although other members of his group were present. At least one Shiite group is reported to have boycotted the talks, the BBC reported.
News reports say hundreds of protesters greeted many of the delegates as they arrived at the conference hall, saying that clerics from the city of Najaf were not properly represented at the meeting. Another group of demonstrators reportedly called for unity among Iraq’s factions.
The meeting follows coalition forces’ arrest Sunday of Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, the returned exile who declared himself mayor of Baghdad. Al-Zubaidi, who declared himself the Iraqi capital’s administrator on April 17, had “obstructed Coalition efforts to get Iraqis back to work and exercised authority he did not have,” U.S. Central Command, said in a statement.
Coalition forces also detained Husam Muhammad al-Yasin, Saddam Hussein’s national monitoring director, on Sunday. Al-Yasin was head of the National Monitoring Directorate, which kept track of Iraq’s weapons. He was number 49 on the Defense Department’s list of 55 most wanted Iraqis, and the 13th person on the list confirmed to be in coalition hands.