Opposition leader urges US to bolster Iraqi democrats

The Jerusalem Post
By Erik Schechter and AP (4/21/03)

President George W. Bush must actively support Iraqi democrats in order to stop Iraq's slide into anarchy, warned Kanan Makiya, a leading member of the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Author of the anti-Saddam Hussein book The Republic of Fear, Makiya has been spearheading efforts to establish a new constitution for the country, a process he sees taking two to three years.

"But its adoption depends on the US choosing to work with democrats as opposed to non-democrats," he told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. The central problem, he said, is that Washington is divided over which Iraqi groups to back.

Other Iraqi exiles have gone further and complained that State Department and CIA have ignored the liberal INC. The US military government has yet to recognize returned INC exile Muhammad Mohsen al-Zubaidi as mayor of Baghdad. And the INC's Free Iraqi Forces, under the command of Gen. Tommy Franks, numbers only 700 - too few to maintain law and order in the country.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iranian-backed Shi'ite group has been playing the role of spoiler in southern Iraq.

"Local defense and police forces linked to the Islamists are emerging," said Makiya. "They will become militias if we don't stop them."

Shi'ites comprise 60 percent of the population of Iraq, and SCIRI represents a dominant political party within that Muslim sect. So when the group boycotted the American-organized meeting of opposition groups in Nasiriyah on April 15, the results were predictable.

At the same time, more than 2,000 Shi'ites protested the US and British presence in Iraq, chanting "Yes to Islam... No to America, No to Saddam."

"We had hoped the Americans would never come to this country," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, deputy to SCIRI leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. "The American forces' target was Saddam Hussein. Now there is no Saddam, so why are they still here?"

More than a week after Saddam's regime collapsed, US officials and Iraqi leaders were racing to set up local administrations to fill the void on Sunday, trying to restore order as well as basic services such as water and power.

US-led forces were preparing a proclamation formally declaring the war over, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said. Final details were still being worked out, "but it will happen in the next few days," he said.

Christians packed into churches across the nation Sunday to celebrate Easter, while Baghdad's self-proclaimed mayor outlined plans to rebuild city hall and promised to punish anyone whose "hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people."

Christians, who make up about 5 percent of Iraq's population, crowded into churches for Easter services. A longtime bishop of Baghdad used the occasion to ask that Bush help introduce an Iraqi constitution that treats Christians the same as Muslims.

"Please tell Mr. Bush, 'I am asking you in the name of all bishops to give us a good constitution,' " the Rev. Emmanuel Delly told The Associated Press.

Elsewhere in the capital, workers fixed a fuel pipeline crucial to powering up Baghdad again after a two- week blackout, and a UN convoy of 50 trucks carrying flour rumbled into a city running out of food.

US troops met with community leaders and discussed security concerns. A US-run radio station read a statement announcing an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

"Anyone who violates this curfew will put himself in danger," one announcer said. Another advised people not to carry weapons
"because you might be considered a threat to coalition forces."

Fewer US troops were in Baghdad after marines pulled out and headed south, letting army units - and a revived Iraqi police force - take over. Pentagon officials refused to disclose numbers, citing security reasons.
Zubaidi, a longtime exile who earlier proclaimed himself in charge of Baghdad, said that 22 committees had been formed to administer the city, and people had been appointed to lead them.

"We have met with lawmen to create laws, and to open the courts so that life can begin to take on legitimacy," he said at a news conference. "The security situation in Baghdad is considered first priority in our agenda."

Zubaidi said - without elaborating - that Iraq's new constitution would be based on Islamic law, as are many Arab nations' constitutions to varying degrees.

Zubaidi is a deputy of Ahmed Chalabi, a top figure in the INC, an opposition group long backed by Washington. Even though Zubaidi proclaimed himself Baghdad's leader, it remained unclear where his authority comes from or if it exists at all; no US officials attended his news conference.

"I was chosen by tribal leaders and educated people, the doctors of the city and other prominent figures," Zubaidi said. "We are not a transitional government. We are an executive committee to run Baghdad."

The US will eventually set up an interim government for the nation to be headed by retired general Jay Garner, who was expected to visit Baghdad on Monday. An Iraqi government will be elected later, and US Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the US should not expect to create a functioning democracy in Iraq for at least five years.

"There's not much to work with at the moment," he said in Washington.

Chalabi said Sunday he does not envisage an Islamic theocracy in Baghdad, but religious groups would likely play a role in governing the nation.

"There is a role for Islamic religious parties, for they have some constituencies," Chalabi told ABC. "But they are not going to be forcing any agenda or forcing a theocracy on the Iraqi people. They are committed to being part of the electoral process."

In the south, life is slowly returning to normal. In Basra, local residents working with British forces have managed to restore water, electricity, and a local phone system. In Umm Qasr, a new town council has appointed judges, police, even garbage collectors. The rail line between the two cities was reopened Saturday.

Najaf and Karbala are preparing to host up to 2 million Shi'ite Muslims from Iraq, Iran, and other countries for the annual pilgrimage, a holy tradition long repressed by Saddam's Sunni Muslim regime.