SALAHUDDIN–IRAQ (Reuters)–Iraq’s opposition warned on Wednesday against US rule or Turkish intervention in a war to oust President Saddam Hussein–but a US envoy sought to reassure them Washington wanted Iraqis to govern themselves.
Gathering on their home soil–Saddam’s long-divided opponents rejected US plans for a period of military rule after a war–in which Turkey vows to send troops into Kurdish-held northern Iraq to nip a Kurdish state in the bud.
"There should be no break in the sovereignty of Iraqis over Iraq–because there is much good in it and its absence would mean many calamities,” said Ahmad Chalabi–head of the US-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC).
"Among the greatest dangers we face from the war that is expected is foreign domination of Iraq and its capabilities,” said Abdelaziz al-Hakim of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
"We affirm our rejection of occupation–hegemony and domination.”
The two men were speaking on the first day of an opposition summit in the breakaway Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq–at which opposition leaders hope to set up a leadership council they see as the core of a future government of Iraq.
Washington–awaiting Ankara’s permission to send thousands of troops to Turkish bases for an advance into northern Iraq–sent envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to the meeting–where he sought to play down the prospect of prolonged US military rule.
But he also left the door open to working with Iraq’s military and elemen’s of its bureaucracy–a notion some of the opposition have likened to putting an American stamp of approval on Iraqi government brutality.
"The decision of who will ultimately govern Iraq is a decision for the Iraqi people,” Khalilzad said–to applause from delegates in the mountain town of Salahuddin–base of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
SADDAM TO GO–ARMY TO STAY
"The United States has no desire to govern Iraq–the Iraqi people should govern their own affairs as soon as possible,” he said–calling for war crimes prosecutions of Saddam and close advisers. "None of us want Saddamism without Saddam.”
But he added: "We share a belief that a reformed Iraqi army should continue to have an important role in a free Iraq–that the Iraqi armed forces will be part of the liberation of their country.”
He made no mention of US ally Turkey–which is demanding a multi-billion dollar aid package in exchange for housing US troops–as well as the right to a big military presence in northern Iraq–out of Baghdad’s control since the 1991 Gulf War.
Turkey has long had troops in northern Iraq hunting separatist Turkish Kurds in a conflict that has claimed over 30,000 lives since 1984 but has died down in the last few years.
The KDP–which along with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) administers northern Iraq–has warned that a Turkish influx could provoke uncontrolled fighting–and other opposition figures said Turkey had no business intervening in Iraq.
"We want the best relations and greatest security–economic and political cooperation with Turkey,” Chalabi said.
"But that desire is predicated on its respect for the integrity and independence of Iraqi territory–and the will of the Iraqi people.”
Wednesday’s meeting was originally set for mid-January but was repeatedly delayed–raising questions about the solidarity of an opposition overshadowed by a long history of squabbling.
Bickering over power in the Kurdish zone flared into war in the mid-1990s between the KDP and its PUK rivals but they now share control of the mountainous area through parallel–cooperating administrations.