Some Iraqi political parties are criticizing a U.S. decision to postpone until July a nation-building conference expected to choose an interim government for the country. Iraqi party leaders say the delay -- announced this week by U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer -- is a major setback. And they say that, if necessary, they will proceed with a conference of their own without U.S. approval.
Baghdad, 23 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi politicians jockeying for power in the country's future government are expressing anger at a U.S. decision to hold a nation-building conference to elect a transitional authority.
As recently as two weeks ago, the U.S. was promising to set up by what it called "the beginning of a nucleus of a temporary Iraqi government" by mid-May.
Now, however, the U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, says the conference is likely to be held only in July. He also said more work needed to be done to identify a "truly representative group" to rule Iraq properly -- an implication that the so-called "leadership council" of five Iraqi parties may see some changes in the near future.
Hamid al-Bayati is a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an influential Shi'a group led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim that holds a seat on the council.
SCIRI has expressed concern that even if the U.S. creates an interim government, it will be largely powerless. Al-Bayati said a number of Iraqi political parties are prepared to convene a national assembly if the U.S. fails to act soon. "We believe that we should have an Iraqi government as soon as possible because the longer we [live without a government,] the more difficult the situation will be and the more complicated the situation will be," he said.
Al-Bayati said until Iraq has a freely elected government the country will not be able to maintain law and order. The spokesman also says SCIRI will not take part in any interim government led by a U.S. official, and that sooner or later the Americans will have to agree to a compromise. Al-Bayati added, "We will go on rejecting any idea which will imply a less-than-independent Iraqi government."
The Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, has also criticized the delay. INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar said the transitional government is a "priority" for the Iraqi people and that American decisions about the nation-building conference will "change nothing."
"It is not up to the Americans to postpone the process. This is, first, an Iraqi process, not an American process. We are an ally to the United States, we can be easy allies and we can be difficult allies," Qanbar said.
Qanbar added that Iraqi parties have already begun preparations for the conference, although it is unclear when it will be held. Even if it takes place in mid-July -- the timing the U.S. is suggesting -- it will be the Iraqis, and not the Americans, who decide, Qanbar said.
Not all parties claim the U.S. is procrastinating. Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two groups controlling northern Iraq's Kurdish provinces since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, does not object to the American strategy.
PUK spokesman Muhammad Shuker said it makes no difference whether it takes a week or two months to form a civilian government. "Yes, we have no opposition to [Bremer's] step," he said. "How could you establish a government [now, with] thieves and killings, terrorists, the ex-Saddam [Hussein officials] still making problems for people?"
Shuker said much work remains until a truly democratic government can be established in Iraq, and that the Americans must play an integral part. The U.S. liberated Iraq, he said, and are responsible for its fate.