Exile groups frustrated by U.S. role in meeting

Some say hand-picking of participants, travel aid send `very bad message'

War in Iraq

April 17, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Echoing protesters in Iraq, members of Iraqi exile groups in the United States complained yesterday that U.S. officials had hand-picked the 100 or so participants at Tuesday's meeting in Ur to plan a new Iraqi government.

They singled out Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, who they said received special treatment, including transportation to Iraq, because of his close ties to the U.S. government. Chalabi did not attend the meeting but sent a representative.

"Airlifting Chalabi and his group to Ur sent a very bad message to the people of Iraq," said Rahman Aljebouri, a member of the Washington-based Iraqi National Group. "They are not seeing a free-spirited Iraqi government - instead they are seeing Iraqis governing who work for the U.S. We need to get some more familiar faces in there."

Marines guarded the gathering of selected community leaders and exiles. They met with retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, whose Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has been charged with overseeing the installation of an interim Iraqi government. Some Shiite Muslims, Iraq's largest religious group, boycotted the meeting, and thousands of them demonstrated outside, where they shouted, "No to America." Many also denounced Chalabi.

Laith Kubba, the leader of the Iraqi National Group, said he received his invitation just five days before the Ur meeting, giving him no time to arrange a visa. Kubba also said he was not offered any transportation assistance.

"It was impossible for me to go," he said in a telephone interview from London. "I would have liked to have been given better notice and some help covering my travel costs."

Kubba, a liberal Shiite who is being promoted in some circles as a possible successor to Saddam Hussein, instead remained in London, where he has been meeting with 80-year-old exile Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister.

Pachachi, a Sunni Muslim, sent one of his representatives to Ur but has declined invitations to play a leading role in the post-Hussein era. He favors having the United Nations administer a provisional government.

Kubba loyalists in Washington expressed frustration that U.S. officials did not escort Kubba and Pachachi to the meeting, instead singling out Chalabi.

"We need to develop leadership from the inside and from people that the Iraqis trust," said Zuhair Humadi, a member of the Iraqi National Group. "When they saw all the people at the meeting like Chalabi who are working with the Department of Defense, they didn't see the conscience of the Iraqi people."

The Iraqi National Group has its own 14-point plan for rebuilding Iraq and fostering democracy. It calls for a transitional government established by Iraqis inside Iraq and says this authority should negotiate with the United Nations to regain Iraq's full sovereignty over its land and resources.

According to the group's members, this can only be achieved if future meetings are open to more Iraqis.

"For the next meeting they need to loosen up the process a little so that people don't feel as though they are excluded from representation," Kubba said.

Kubba plans to attend the next meeting, scheduled for April 25.

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