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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 23:30 GMT
Planning for a new Iraq

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online in Washington

As Iraqi opposition leaders ended their summit meeting in the Kurdish summer resort of Salahuddin, other Iraqis were discussing plans for a new Iraqi constitution in Washington.

Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, with his bodyguards at Salahuddin
Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress
The meeting, sponsored by an influential think tank close to the Bush administration, revealed that there are still very big disagreements among the opposition about how to restructure Iraq after a possible war.

With President George W Bush increasingly talking about the need for regime change in Iraq, the debate about what form of government would replace Saddam Hussein has been intensifying.

But the biggest uncertainty concerns the role that the US itself might play in a post-conflict Iraq.

Mr Bush has said that US forces will stay "as long as it takes, and not a moment longer" to establish a democratic regime in Iraq, but many observers wonder whether the US has the political will to stay for the time it would take to rebuild political institutions in Iraq.

Last week, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly rebuked Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki for saying that some 100,000 US troops might be needed for several years to keep the peace in Iraq.

Fight over federalism

The US has also said that the ultimate constitutional arrangements in Iraq would be determined by Iraqis - while in the meantime an interim regime would run the country under an American general.

But there could be significant disagreements among the opposition on the design of a future constitution.

Delegates at the meeting in Salahuddin
US Envoy Khalilzad: policy still evolving
According to Rend Rahim Francke of the Iraq Foundation, who was a member of State Department's Iraq working group on democracy, a new Iraq constitution should be federalist, decentralising power away from Baghdad to the provinces, and parliamentary, rather than presidential.

And it should aim at creating a sense of common citizenship among all Iraqis, as well as giving them all equal rights.

But she was strongly opposed to dispersing power to ethnic groups, such as the Kurds, rather than to geographic areas like provinces or counties.

However, another speaker at the conference, Emmanuel Kamber, a deputy chairman of the Iraq National Council, argued strongly for the explicit inclusion in the constitution of a role for ethnic groups.

He argued that otherwise his own minority group, the Assyrians, who make number up to two million, would continue to be discriminated against, and would lack the geographic base of groups like the Kurds, who largely run their own affairs.

But Ms Francke said that it was fundamentally undemocratic to give power to ethnic groups, as the larger ones would dominate the political process to the exclusion of everyone else.

Others pointed out that it was the rule of law, not a guaranteed parliamentary slot, that should be used to protect minorities.

Tackling the army

The Kurds, who are strongly represented on the new leadership council of the Iraqi opposition, also have an armed militia some 80,000 strong.

Another speaker at the conference, Efraim Karsh, a professor at King's College in London, said that such militias should be disarmed and the integrated into a reconstituted Iraqi army.

And he said that integrating the army back into society, and ending its privileged status, was one of the biggest problems a new government would face.

But he warned that a bigger problem was the lack of a sense of nationalism in the region, with notions of "pan-Arabism" being promoted by most of Iraq's leaders from the Hashemites to the current Baathist party.

He argued that without that sense of national identity, political institutions were likely to be weak.

Finding the resources

A big problem for any post-war Iraqi government would be financing reconstruction.

Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes that it is vital to restructure the biggest source of income, oil revenues.

He argues that these revenues, which are the largest source of income for the government, should be distributed to the provinces to give them real power and autonomy.

And he says that the central government would make still be able to develop new oilfields with the help of foreign companies while retaining the revenue stream from older wells.

The future of any post-Saddam government in Iraq is still murky, and dependent on many uncertain events.

But the fact that it is being discussed so seriously in Washington at the moment is a sign of how close the war now seems.




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