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Iraq: Opposition Groups Jockey For Position In Interim Government

The fate of Iraq's interim government is due to be determined within the next few weeks. The U.S. civil administration has declared that a council of up to nine Iraqis will lead the temporary government, and Iraqi opposition groups have responded by jockeying for position. The composition of the council is expected to be announced by the start of the Iraqi national conference later this month. RFE/RL reports from Baghdad.

Baghdad, 8 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Out of nine potential members on the council that will lead Iraq's interim government, five appear to be certain: Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi; Iraqi National Accord Secretary-General Ayad Allawi; Masoud Barzani of the Party of Democratic Kurdistan; Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and Abdulaziz Bakir al-Hakim, the number-two figure in the Iran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq.

The five are hard at work in heavily guarded headquarters in search of the remaining four leaders to join the council that will guide Iraq's interim government. Who those four will be has prompted cautious but excited speculation in Baghdad over the past days.

The parties considered the likeliest candidates are the Islamic Dawah Party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, and the Iraqi Turkmen Front.

The man who was expected to round out the candidates was Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister who has spent the past 33 years in exile. But Pachachi, who returned to Iraq on 6 May as the head of the newly formed Iraqi National Coalition, turned down a seat on the U.S.-sanctioned leadership council, saying he will serve in the transitional government only if he is elected -- not nominated.

"The important thing now is not the leadership council of the opposition, but rather the transitional government. And that transitional government has to be elected, and not nominated by somebody else. It has to be elected by a broadly based Iraqi conference in which all political forces and persuasions in Iraq should be represented," Pachachi said.

Some political party members caution that many important issues remain unresolved beyond the composition of the leadership council. Ebrahim Al-Jafari, a spokesman for the Islamic Dawah Party, a Shi'ite group, says his party is prepared to join the "council of nine" only if certain conditions are met.

"We have to open the doors of the [national] conference to all political forces -- different religions, different nationalities, and different ethnic [backgrounds] -- the [entire] composition of our country. If we are sure that these conditions will be applied, I think, we are going to share [the council of nine]," Al-Jafari says.

The role of the United States in the ongoing process of the formation of the Iraqi interim government is another issue being discussed among leading and potential members of the future council. The recent appointment of Paul Bremer as U.S. President George W. Bush's special envoy to Iraq has alerted some Iraqi parties to the fact that Washington does not intend to be sidelined as the political future of Iraq is determined.

Al-Jafari says that his party accepts the economic and political interests of the United States in Iraq, but warns that the interests of Iraq and the Iraqi people should come first.

"There is a cost for this process. [The Americans] are present on our [soil]. They are taking a role in the security. So we are going to take [their interests] into our consideration. But of course there is a difference between they themselves [deciding] everything and Iraqis responding to them, and the Iraqis doing [the decision-making] and taking into consideration what America needs," Al-Jafari says.

Representatives of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities who lived through decades of persecution under the former regime look at U.S. participation as a guarantee their political rights will not be ignored. Yonadam Kanna, a member of the Assyrian Democratic Movement -- an umbrella group that says it represents more than a million Iraqi Christian Assyrians -- says the United States must contribute to building a stable, secure Iraq.

"The experiment here, this change here, is a very difficult [test] for Americans. First of all, for the Republican Party and President Bush in coming elections. Second, for America altogether in Islamic and Arabic countries. Because maybe they have another program to change a regime for freedom and democracy [elsewhere in the region]. So, if they don't succeed here, then they [will] lose it in the future somewhere else," Kanna says.

Faruk Abdullah Abdulrahman, a leading member of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the only political group representing the country's ethnic Turkmens, of which it says there are more than 2.5 million, says his party also wants the United States to help the Iraqi political establishment to root itself in democratic principles.

"Everybody should know that after the collapse of the Saddam regime, the help of those countries who supported us [in this fight] will not be forgotten. That's why we think that with [America's] help we should get our democracy on its feet and then this matter will be over," Abdulrahman says.

Talks on the composition of the leadership council are to be concluded within a few days.