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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 April, 2003, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Analysis: Struggle for power in Iraq

By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Even as the war in Iraq reaches its endgame, the task of trying to rebuild the country, both physically and politically, is already under way.

Toppled statue of Saddam
The fall of Saddam has made fault lines within Iraqi society apparent
American officials are organising a series of meetings in Iraq designed to create an interim Iraqi authority which, they say, will take over the running of the country after a brief period of US military rule.

The first of these meetings is to be held in southern Iraq on Tuesday - probably at an airbase near the town of Nasiriya - but planning for the post-war future is still dogged by controversy.

The top US commander, General Tommy Franks, has invited Iraqis from inside the country and from the main opposition groups abroad.

But the task of identifying which Iraqis the US and British forces can work with is proving fraught with difficulty.

'Big tent'

The fractured character of the Iraqi opposition-in-exile is well known.

But, now that the Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein has lost his grip on power, the fault lines within Iraqi society are becoming apparent too.

The tensions which have erupted in the Shia holy city of Najaf - where a prominent Shia cleric was assassinated last week - could provide a warning of dangers to come.

Jay Garner, the retired American general appointed by the Pentagon to run a temporary US-led administration, has offered the Iraqis a "big tent".

In other words, he wants to draw as many Iraqis as possible into the process. The aim is to work at the local level, with a series of what one US official has called "town hall" meetings.

UN role

The hope is that Iraqis returning from exile can find common ground with Iraqis who have lived under Saddam Hussein's rule.

The latter are to include tribal and religious leaders and members of the bureaucracy and the Baath Party who are deemed trustworthy.

The climax of this "rolling dialogue", as officials are calling it, will be a big meeting in Baghdad - designed on the model of the Bonn conference which produced a new leadership for post-Taleban Afghanistan.

Ahmed Chalabi
Ahmad Chalabi has the support of the Washington hawks, who believe he is the man to set Iraq on a democratic path

One big difference is that in Afghanistan the United Nations was in charge. In Iraq the US is in the driving seat.

"The UN can be an important partner," Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a Senate committee last week. "But it can't be the managing partner."

How big a role the UN should have continues to be a point of friction between America and some of its key allies, notably France, Germany and Russia.

They are warning that without UN blessing a new administration in Baghdad would lack legitimacy.

The Bonn conference consecrated Hamid Karzai as the head of the interim administration in Afghanistan.

But there are no obvious contenders for the Hamid Karzai of Baghdad.

Contenders:

  • Ahmad Chalabi is one of the best-known figures. He leads the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which has been backed by the US and Britain ever since it was created in the aftermath of the last war against Iraq, in 1991. He has the support of the Washington hawks, who believe he is the man to set Iraq on a democratic path. His critics, however, point out that he left Iraq in the 1950s and has been accused of corrupt business dealings. As a (secular) Shia he arouses the mistrust of the Arab world's Sunni ruling class.

  • Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, who is from a prominent Iraqi Shia family, runs the Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He has supporters in Iraq, but the Iranian connection makes the US - and some Iraqis - wary of him.

  • Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, is an 80-year-old Sunni who has been courted by the Americans and is well connected in the Gulf sheikhdoms. He is a nationalist with a secular liberal outlook. Some see him, because of his age, as a possible caretaker leader.

  • Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the leaders of the two Kurdish factions in northern Iraq, have a firm base among their own people but would be unlikely contenders for national power.

  • Nizar Khazraji, a prominent Iraqi general who defected to the West, is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Saddam. The CIA is reported to have helped him escape to the Gulf from house arrest in Denmark, where prosecutors were investigating his alleged role in gas attacks on the Iraqi Kurds.

Washington infighting

In the absence of a candidate with impeccable credentials, the US may try to build up a collective leadership - one which would represent Iraq's mosaic of different communities and command enough confidence to return the country to some sort of normality.

But it is not only within Iraq that fierce differences over the post-war future are being played out.

In Washington, the State Department and the CIA suspect the Pentagon of actively promoting its protege, Ahmad Chalabi, who was recently flown into southern Iraq by the US military with a group of his followers.

They fear that imposing Mr Chalabi would alienate other Iraqis.

The White House has tried to damp down the infighting. But the dispute is unresolved.




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