Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


In shadow of ancient Ur, factions ponder new Iraq

TALLIL AIRBASE, Iraq (REUTERS) — A stone’s throw from the reputed birthplace of civilization, Iraqi political and religious leaders gathered to discuss how to build a new, free Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Around 80 representatives of exiled groups, radical and mainstream Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims and Kurds joined U.S. and British officials at a makeshift American air base near the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur.

After their plane touched down at the air base, one exiled Iraqi wept and another dropped to his knees to kiss the ground.


Jay Garner, the former U.S. general leading the drive to rebuild Iraq, opened the conference on his 65th birthday.

“What better birthday can a man have than to begin it not only where civilization began but where a free Iraq and a democratic Iraq will begin today?” he asked.

The meeting, according to a statement published on the website of the U.S. Central Command, agreed to work for a democratic government under a federal system after consultations across Iraq.

The 13-point statement, approved by consensus according to one group that attended, advocated the dissolution of the once-feared Baath party of Saddam, who was toppled in the U.S.-led war that began March 20.

Those attending the meeting were not empowered to take any concrete decisions at this stage, but Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister who sent a representative, said the statement represented a position advocated by all Iraqi groups.

“These 13 points, there is nothing new. It is the platform of everyone practically. Everyone has advocated this,” he told Reuters by telephone from the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi, where he moved when he left Iraq in 1969.

“These meetings are designed to prepare for a larger, broadly based meeting of Iraqi political tendencies and which will elect a transitional authority,” he added.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking later at a briefing in Washington, described the 13-point plan as “very interesting and very positive.”

He said the purpose of the meeting was “to help pave the way for a free Iraqi government that will eventually be chosen by the Iraqi people.

Consultations across Iraq

Ur was the chief city of the Sumerians and reputed to be the birthplace of Abraham, recognized as the father of prophets by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

After a day of delay and protests in the nearby town of Nassiriya, the meeting agreed a new Iraq had to be built on respect for diversity and respect for the role of women.

The meeting also discussed the role of religion.

Sheikh Ayad Jamal Al Din, a Shi’ite religious leader from Nassiriya, called for Iraq to remain a secular state under a “system of government that separates belief from politics.”

The meeting voted to reconvene in 10 days and to invite other Iraqi groups to begin talks on setting up an interim authority.

Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi, eager not to be seen as a stooge of the Americans who back him, opted to stay away and sent a representative instead.

He told Abu Dhabi television the next gathering would take place in Baghdad and only involve Iraqis.

A leading Iran-based Shi’ite Muslim group stayed away. “We cannot be part of a process which is under an American general,” a spokesman for the Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said.

Sethna predicted the group would attend the next meeting.

But in Nassiriya, thousands of Iraqis protested that they did not need American help now Saddam had gone.

“No to America, No to Saddam,” chanted Iraqis from the Shi’ite Muslim majority oppressed by Saddam, who is of the rival Sunni sect. Arabic TV networks said up to 20,000 people marched.

Garner is to head the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance until Iraqis take over, probably in six months to a year. He will report to Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the invasion of Iraq.

U.S. officials want Iraqis to form their own decision-making structure ahead of eventual elections, but they said Tuesday the various leaders would first just get acquainted.

Establishing a stable government is a daunting task. Exiles claim a say, as do those who lived for decades under Saddam’s brutal rule. Tribal, ethnic and religious leaders, particularly the majority Shi’ites, have loyal followings.

Stopping the country fragmenting into Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni zones will be a tough battle — but one Iraq’s neighbors, fearing a reaction among their own minorities, insist on.

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