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Sunni Muslim opposition leader emerges as possible leader of Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—In a country where no one can imagine who the next president might be, a new name has emerged from the past.

Adnan Pachachi, a prominent Sunni Muslim opposition leader and elder statesman who claims to have no political ambitions, blew into a news conference Wednesday like a head of state at his first official public appearance in Baghdad.

Surrounded by heavy security, greeted by children bearing flowers and wearing a crisp gray suit, Pachachi sat still for much of his debut at the Ishtar Sheraton, as aides swirled around him.

While other opposition leaders and political candidates have either no name recognition or are associated with only one slice of society, Pachachi has credibility as a former Iraqi foreign minister and Iraqi envoy to the United Nations who is untainted by associations with Saddam's regime.

Pachachi, 80, heads the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement. An opera buff, he has been in exile in London and the United Arab Emirates for more than 30 years.

Some exiles are perceived by many as ineligible foreigners. Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, Baghdad's self-proclaimed mayor, has come and gone; and the Pentagon civilians' choice to lead Iraq, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, has been keeping a decidedly low profile.

But Pachachi, whose counsel is sought by the likes of Jordan's King Abdullah and the president of the United Arab Emirates, may be a unifying force.

He has been named by Jay Garner, the American civil administrator in Iraq, as one of several opposition leaders in a team of "emerging leadership" that will help form an interim Iraqi government. He also has been identified by Arab broadcast media as a likely candidate for prime minister.

"We welcome Adnan Pachachi, who didn't come back to Iraq with an American tank and protected by American troops," Yaseen al Husseiny, a political science professor who belongs to the Arabic Journalists and Arabic Authors Unions, said to loud applause in a thinly veiled attack on Chalabi.

At Pachachi's "press conference," questions were taken only from Iraqi citizens in the audience, and they were mostly statements. The overflow crowd of more than 300 people was moved into a larger auditorium with electricity problems.

Lit only by television lights and a single hotel lamp, Pachachi made a brief statement calling security, electricity, water and government salaries "urgent missions" that needed solutions.

He repeated his calls for a broad-based council of political and ethnic leaders to vote directly for an interim government rather than having one imposed by the Americans. Pachachi, who opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq, has declined to meet with a council of opposition leaders set up by the Americans that includes the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Shi'a Supreme Council for an Islamic Revolution, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord.

"The question of making a new government is very important because it is related to the people and their hopes for a new future," Pachachi said. "The new government must have the authority to deal with Iraq's assets now frozen in foreign bank accounts, whatever their source."

The new government must allow multiple parties to share power, and it must have a greater voice at the United Nations, especially during any discussion of Iraq, Pachachi said.

"The problem is everything has now been done without the Iraqi point of view," said Saad al Bazzaz, a member of the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement who accompanied Pachachi. "We should have no new U.N. resolutions, for example, without listening to the Iraqi point of view."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+pachachi