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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Iraqi exile calls for demilitarisation

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington

A leading member of the Iraqi opposition has called for the demilitarisation of Iraq after the war.

Kanan Makiya, who has close ties to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), told an audience at the neo-Conservative American Enterprise Institute that a fierce debate was still raging about how to reconstruct Iraq after the war.

Mr Makiya argues that the old regime in Iraq, and especially the Baath Party and the Iraqi army, must be permanently eliminated as a factor in Iraqi politics.

He says that he favours a 10-year ban on army officers and party members taking part in politics, so that Iraq can eliminate "all vestiges of totalitarianism" and build a "new kind of state" in the Middle East.

Mr Makiya says that, because of the threat of future coups, he would favour a complete dismantling of the army, as well as the Republican Guards and the security services.

That would imply a substantial American military presence in the region for some years to come to provide for Iraq's security.

One problem with Mr Makiya's approach might be the lack of support for a long military occupation of Iraq among the American public
He estimates it would take at least two years to finish this task, as well as to design a new constitution and hold free elections in Iraq.

But some US officials have suggested that the coalition would be prepared to work with elements of the existing Iraqi Government, and the military, to quickly re-establish order and the normal functioning of government.

That would reduce the number of US troops needed on the ground, and mean that the reconstruction process could proceed speedily.

Who will govern Iraq?

Mr Makiya said that he expected the Iraqi Interim Authority to be set up shortly as a government-in-waiting, with the INC as its initial core, and with Iraqis running some key ministries like agriculture.
Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi
The State Department and the CIA are sceptical of how much support Ahmed Chalabi has within Iraq

Earlier this week, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi set up a base in the southern town of Nasiriya with the support of the Pentagon.

His lightly-armed men - the advance guard of what is being called the Free Iraqi Forces - will help with humanitarian work and act as a liaison between US forces and the local population.

A senior US military officer has described the group as the nucleus of the new Iraqi army.

But their arrival has as much political as military significance.

Rivals

The State Department and the CIA are sceptical of how much support Mr Chalabi has within Iraq - they have argued that more Iraqis from inside the country must be included.

But Mr Makiya says this is a false distinction that is made in Washington but not in Iraq - where he says opposition leaders in the south have already taken towns, only to be told to leave by US forces.

Another AEI fellow and former CIA specialist, Reuel Gerecht, said that the leaders favoured by the State Department were a "surreal species of sclerotic pan-Arabists" and predicted that Mr Chalabi - a Shia - would win the hearts and minds of the Shia clergy.

He also said that Ayatollah Mohammad-Baqer Hakim - a leader of the Shia faction based in Iran who says he is returning from exile - "lacked charisma" and was too closely aligned to Tehran.

US public opinion

One problem with Mr Makiya's approach might be the lack of support for a long military occupation of Iraq among the American public.

The AEI public opinion expert, Karlyn Bowman, said that although support for military action to oust Saddam Hussein has remained strong and consistent, the public's "historic isolationism" was still a strong factor shaping their view of the post-war situation.

She said that 42% of the population was worried about US troops staying on in Iraq, and that two-thirds of the American people preferred the UN, rather than the US, to take a leading role in the rebuilding of Iraq.




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