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US gives Iraq opposition its view of future

In N. Iraq this week, a US envoy offered reassurances on post-Hussein roles.

By Cameron W. BarrStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 2003



SALAHUDDIN, IRAQ

In its efforts to broaden support for a military action against Iraq, the US is telling key constituencies what they want to hear.

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US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has offered opponents of Saddam Hussein soothing words - and apparently little more - about their role in a future Iraqi government, possible Turkish involvement in a US-led invasion force, and the duration of US military rule in Iraq.

Opposition leaders say they have found Mr. Khalilzad's statements reassuring, but he has made clear that the US will continue to pursue policies on all three counts that the opposition has criticized in recent days and weeks.

Khalilzad sought to calm opposition fears - particularly among Kurds - about the part Turkey's military might play in a US-led invasion of Iraq. Khalilzad insisted Wednesday the US is "opposed to a Turkish unilateral role in here," adding that Turkish participation in a coalition would have to be "fully coordinated" with the US and come with a commitment to leave Iraq when the US leaves.

Kurdish officials seemed pleased by this language, but said yesterday that they would press for talks with the US and Turkey to clarify the Turkish role. Earlier in the week, they had warned of the possibility of clashes between Kurds and Turks if the latter moved aggressively into Kurdish-controlled parts of Iraq during a US-led invasion.

Although Khalilzad's comments suggested the US would put limitations on a Turkish military presence, no one is saying the Turks won't enter Iraq. Indeed, analysts say that entering Iraq has been a key Turkish demand in negotiations with the US over how many troops and how much war materiel the US will be allowed to move through Turkey in order to create a "northern front" against Iraq.

In Ankara, Turkish and U.S. officials confirmed a military agreement between the two countries had been worked out. It includes a plan to distribute weapons to Kurdish military factions fighting Mr. Hussein's army. Turkey, however, demanded and apparently secured a promise the US and Turkey will keep a list of who has weapons - and will jointly see to their collection after the war is over, say Turkish media reports. Turkey wants to ensure Kurd guerrillas are absorbed into a refashioned Iraqi army due to concerns the Kurds, once armed, could declare an independent state.

Khalilzad's foray into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq seems part of a global effort by US officials to enhance support for military action against Mr. Hussein's regime. In addressing more than 50 members of an opposition coordinating committee gathered here, Khalilzad said the Iraqi people would choose the form of their next government, that the US would ensure that one dictator is not replaced by another, and that the US would stay in Iraq no longer than necessary. He referred to Germany and Japan - where US occupation after World War II gave way to democratic governance - and assured the delegates the US was committed to ending the role of Hussein's ruling Baath party.

"We don't want to dictate the details of an Iraqi political setup from Washington," Khalilzad told reporters, but analysts and politicians here and abroad say that US willingness to go to war in Iraq will give it an unassailable prerogative to shape Iraq's next system of governance.

In recent weeks, as it has emerged that the US intends initially to establish a military government in Iraq. Many opposition members have called it wrong and dangerous for a US general to rule their country. They have said such a plan will produce resistance throughout the Middle East to US "occupation," but they may also be speaking out of frustration that the US seems reluctant to guarantee them any immediate role in administering Iraq. Some opposition groups have received financial and other forms of support from the US in the past decade.

Khalilzad "did not budge from the idea of a military governor," says Mouafak Al Rubaie, a member of the opposition coordinating committee, but he and other delegates say they believe the US is committed to instituting democracy in Iraq and to affording the opposition some sort of role. "I feel reassured," says Kanan Makiya, of the Iraqi National Congress, citing Khalilzad's mention of Germany and Japan, his comments on "de-Baathification," and, as Mr. Makiya put it, "the real emphasis on democracy."

Khalilzad did not refer to US military rule in his speech to the committee, and seemed loathe to use the term. But when pressed, he did so. "This is for a short period of time, as short as possible," he said.

Khalilzad spoke of opposition task forces, whose work could be used in shaping a new Iraq. Such a task force is a long way from forming a government-in-waiting, but it seems to offer a foot in the door. US officials have spoken of a "consultative body" of Iraqis that would be formed to advise a US military ruler, and Mr. Al Rubaie says closed-door sessions of the Salahuddin meeting, set to continue over the weekend, would be devoted to reconciling the opposition's vision of its role with US plans for a post-Hussein Iraq.

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