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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 04:05 GMT 05:05 UK
US begins shaping Iraq's future
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (standing) speaks to delegates at the beginning of the Nasiriya meeting
Mr Khalilzad says the US has 'no interest in ruling Iraq'
Iraqi representatives at a US-brokered meeting to start shaping a future government of the country have agreed to work for a democratic, federal Iraq.

The meeting's chairman, White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, said the United States had "absolutely no interest in ruling Iraq".

The gathering at an airbase near the ancient city of Ur, in the Nasiriya region of southern Iraq, marked the first attempt at setting up a new civil authority since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. Returned Iraqi exiles and representatives of Iraq's main ethnic groups agreed to meet again in 10 days.

But one of the country's main Shia groups, the Iranian-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), refused to attend the meeting in protest at the US role.

STATEMENT EXCERPTS
Iraq must be democratic
The future government of Iraq should not be based on communal identity
Iraqis must choose their leaders, not have them imposed from outside
Political violence must be rejected, and Iraqis must immediately organise themselves for the task of reconstruction
Iraqis and the coalition must work together to tackle the immediate issues of restoring security and basic services
The Baath party must be dissolved and its effects on society must be eliminated
There should be another meeting in 10 days with additional Iraqi participants to discuss procedures for developing an Iraqi interim authority

A 13-point statement adopted at the meeting said the new Iraq must respect diversity and the rule of law, and that the Baath party of former President Saddam Hussein must be dissolved.

The United Nations was not represented at the meeting, and it remains unclear exactly what role the US will allow the UN to play in the creation of a new government of Iraq.

Ahmad Fawzi, the UN representative in London, told the BBC that the international body would "do what the Security Council asks it to do".

But, he added, the UN would not be "subjugated to the occupying power on anything it does in Iraq" - an apparent refusal to take US orders.

He said the UN was currently carrying out only humanitarian operations in Iraq.

Difficult road ahead

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld played down the Sciri boycott of Tuesday's meeting, calling it a normal part of democratic politics.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The British have the most experience creating the administrative and legal structures required in Iraq
Ned Simonis, WA, US

Several thousand Shia Muslims opposed to the talks demonstrated in Nasiriya, shouting "No to America, No to Saddam".

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Baghdad says that such scenes are replicated daily in the Iraqi capital.

US envoy Mr Khalilzad chaired the meeting after playing a similar role in setting up the post-Taleban administration in Afghanistan.

Former US Major General Jay Garner
My fear right now is every day we delay we're probably losing some momentum
Jay Garner

Jay Garner, the retired American general appointed by the US Government to run post-war Iraq until an interim administration can take over, also attended, as did about 80 Iraqi delegates.

American officials said the forum would be the first of many, and there will be substantial debate before there is any attempt to shape an interim authority.

BBC correspondents in Iraq say there is concern that Iraqi relief at the fall of Saddam Hussein will turn into resentment over what many perceive as an American occupation.

Correspondents say that brokering an agreement between Iraq's fractious religious and ethnic groups will not be easy.

But the success of the entire US-led venture in Iraq depends on the successful establishment of a new government, correspondents say.

IRAQ FACTS
A statistical view of daily life in Iraq


One of the returned exiles, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, is widely seen as the US Defence Department's choice to lead post-war Iraq - but he has told the French daily newspaper Le Monde that he is "not a candidate for any post".

Mr Chalabi did not attend the meeting himself, sending a representative instead.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"Smiles and congratulations as the first talks on Iraq's future ended"



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