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Exiles draw up plan for post-Saddam Iraq

WASHINGTON—A group of Iraqi exiles backed by the Bush administration has drawn up a plan for a democratic post-Saddam Hussein Iraq that envisages a lengthy U.S. occupation, the country's demilitarization and war-crimes trials for the top tier of Saddam's regime.

On the contentious issue of who would rule the country, the blueprint calls for a national assembly split evenly between Iraqi opposition leaders now in exile and leading figures in Iraq, the plan's chief author, Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, said in an interview with Knight Ridder.

The document stops short of declaring an Iraqi government-in-exile to challenge Saddam's rule. Instead, it would establish an "executive council" of opposition leaders that would prepare a transition government in the event of a U.S.-led invasion, Makiya said.

The Bush administration has pressured Iraqi opposition leaders not to declare a government-in-exile, in part because that might alienate dissidents in the country itself.

"We have a strategy for an authority that can become a government in exile," Makiya said.

The plan for Iraq's future is being finished as opponents of Saddam's regime from across the political spectrum prepare to gather in London the week of Dec. 10. The conference has been delayed repeatedly by sharply differing views in the exile community over the country's future.

President Bush, who has threatened force to eliminate Saddam's regime, is said to be determined to see the conference take place, to highlight challenges to the Iraqi dictator's rule.

The conference, which was set for Nov. 22 and then postponed, was rescheduled after a group of top Pentagon, State Department and White House officials rushed to London last weekend to salvage it.

The U.S. officials tried to portray a united front in the Bush administration, whose members have feuded over Iraq policy and have patronized different Iraqi opposition groups.

"By and large they were trying to show a solidarity and unity of purpose among various parts of the administration," said Iyad Alawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, a CIA-backed group of former military officers and ruling Baath Party officials.

The exiles' democracy blueprint is just one of numerous competing ideas over how to govern Iraq—a multi-ethnic society with no history of democracy—after Saddam is gone.

But it carries special weight, since it was drawn up by the State Department-sponsored Democratic Principles Working Group, composed of 32 expatriate Iraqi intellectuals. The drafting was led by Makiya, whose 1986 book, "Republic of Fear," chronicles the horrors of Saddam's Baathist regime.

While the U.S. officials who went to London urged opposition leaders to devote significant attention to the group's plan, the document itself could become yet another source of friction at the conference.

"We said, `Why should we discuss only this?'" Alawi said in an interview Tuesday in London. "There are other Iraqis who did not participate, and they should be given a chance to discuss and participate."

The conference was nearly scuttled after the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi, objected to plans to limit attendance to 180 delegates, mostly from four groups: two parties representing ethnic Kurds, Alawi's organization and an Iran-backed group of Shi'ite Muslims from southern Iraq.

Under the new format, the conference will comprise 300 delegates, including a number of independent liberals.

In return, Chalabi, a favorite of Pentagon civilians and aides to Vice President Dick Cheney, agreed that the conference would declare a united stand on broad principles, such as democracy, but would not decide on a post-Saddam transitional government or a future political system for Iraq.

However, several people close to the Iraqi opposition said Chalabi conditioned his acceptance on U.S. support for a separate meeting of the INC's National Assembly. They interpreted the move as a sign that Chalabi might try to outflank rival members of the Iraqi opposition and reassert control if the London conference does not go his way.

"Chalabi has not really backed down on this," said a former U.S. official who closely follows Iraqi-exile politics and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Makiya, who is close to Chalabi, said that how to structure a post-Saddam transitional government was "the area of maximum concern" as he and the other intellectuals drafted the 40,000-word democracy blueprint.

It envisions a two-tier system, he said, composed of an executive body and a constituent assembly, or parliament. Half the latter body would be made up of Iraqi exiles who "have to commit themselves to going back to Iraq," he said.

On another controversial point, the document rejects demands from parties representing Iraq's Kurds—who make up 15 percent to 20 percent of its 25 million people—for a federal system that gives them a semi-autonomous zone. The plan calls for a federal system based on geography rather than ethnicity, Makiya said.

It envisages Iraq's demilitarization "in the long run," much like Japan after World War II, with a security treaty with the United States and limits on military spending, Makiya said.

Former State Department official David Mack, now vice president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said that if the Bush administration isn't careful, it could get caught in a long-term occupation of Iraq, "propping up a puppet government."

On the war-crimes issue, the plan calls for the "de-Baathization of Iraq," much like the de-Nazification of Germany after World War II, Makiya said.

Top officials of the regime could be prosecuted in war-crimes trials. Others among the Baath Party's 2 million members would face hearings modeled after South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation process, in which offenders were encouraged to confess their abuses in exchange for leniency or even amnesty.

Some might be barred from holding government office.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.