Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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It seems that the first meeting of exiles in Iraq has gone fairly well.
Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, told the more than 50-member advisory committee of the Iraqi National Congress that the "Iraqi people should govern their own affairs as soon as possible," and told delegates privately that the transition to a democratic Iraqi rule could start within two months of the end of a war.
Khalilzad also delivered diplomatically calibrated statements designed, on one hand, to encourage Turkey to join the coalition against Saddam Hussein, but on the other, to warn Turkey that it must respect U.S. demands that all military movements in northern Iraq and elsewhere be "coordinated" with Washington, and that Turkish troops agree to leave Iraq after a war.
"We would definitely like Turkey to be part of the coalition, but we don't accept any unilateral movement by any country," he told reporters after the meeting adjourned for the day.
The Iraqi delegates to the conference, which included representation of Iraq's mosaic of ethnic groups, tribes, religious sects and ideologies -- and at least three women -- wore formal business suits and buried long-held political rivalries and grievances in their prepared speeches Wednesday.
They often interrupted Khalilzad's remarks with applause. Particularly well received were his statements stressing America's commitment to a democracy and the right of all Iraqis to choose their government.
"You, the Iraqi opposition, have dedicated decades of your lives to liberating your country," he said. "That moment is near."
The U.S. envoy also sought to reassure Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite leader of the Iraqi National Congress, and other delegates that Washington does not favor replacing Hussein with another general, through a military coup or any other means. "None of us want Saddamism without Saddam," Khalilzad said.
In an interview Wednesday night, Chalabi said Khalilzad had told him that in the event of a war, the United States would be largely responsible for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, "de-Baathification" -- a reference to Hussein's ruling Baath Party, and neutralizing the Iraqi military.
"But he also said that there must be no gap of sovereignty by Iraqis in Iraq -- that Iraqis must be sovereign in Iraq at all times," Chalabi said.
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