U.S. Rejects Cleric-Led Iraq

Iraqi Shiite pilgrims holding a portrait of Imam Ali, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, gather on the grounds of the shrine of Imam Hussein in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, Wednesday, April 23, 2003.
The Bush administration is voicing continued concern over the influence of Iran in postwar Iraq, and the possible rise of a fundamentalist Islamic government there.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday Washington won't allow an Iranian-style Islamic government in Iraq.

Iran in turn rejected Bush administration accusations that it is interfering in Iraq. It said the United Nations — not the United States — should run an interim postwar government.

Rumsfeld said the United States — which has promised to let Iraqis choose their own leaders — will not permit the establishment of a religious government comparable to the one in neighboring Iran.

"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," Rumsfeld told The Associated Press.

In other developments:

  • A former Iraqi spy chief, Farouk Hijazi, was turned over to U.S. troops by Syria. Meanwhile, Tariq Aziz, often the public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, was undergoing questioning after surrendering to U.S. forces.
  • President Bush on Thursday raised the possibility that weapons of mass destruction may not be found in Iraq, because Saddam Hussein's regime labored for 12 years to disguise what it was up to. In an interview, the president said the United States has "no military plans" to move against Iran or Syria. Mr. Bush also said there is some evidence suggesting Saddam is either dead or "at the very minimum was severely wounded."
  • Despite assurances from military leaders in the United States and Britain that no health threat is posed by the depleted uranium used in some anti-tank rounds, Britain's Ministry of Defense announced it would screen troops returning from the war for exposure.
  • Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times detail the workings of an Iraqi assassination team that targeted Saddam opponents, killing 66 people between 1998 and 2000.
  • The United Nations refugee agency said Friday that up to half a million Iraqis could go back to their country following the fall of Saddam's government.
  • Turkey's foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador after Turkish media reported that retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner had characterized Kirkuk as a "Kurdish city" during talks in northern Iraq earlier this week. Turkey has ties with the ethnic Turkmen in Iraq, who also call Kirkuk home, and fears that Iraqi Kurdish groups could try to seize control of the oil rich area and use the resources to fund an independent Kurdish state.
  • Iraq turned on the taps from a key northern oil field, officials said.

    The coalition-led interim administration is working to appoint an oil advisory team that will be responsible for rebooting the country's oil ministry.

    Among its duties would be examining the possibility of privatizing Iraq's state-run oil industry and opening it to foreign investors, said Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau at the U.S. State Department.

    Philip Carroll, who was president and chief executive of Shell Oil Co. from 1993 until his retirement in 1998, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle earlier this month that he had been asked by the Defense Department to head the oil team.

    The commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks, said those troops could remain for "months, or a year or two" to ensure stability as Iraqis develop their new government.

    "The fact is we don't know how long it'll take … because we do not yet know exactly how devoted the Iraqis themselves will be in getting over their own tribal and ethnic and religious difficulties," Franks said in an interview in Friday's St. Petersburg Times.

    Garner and the White House have accused Shiite-led Iran of exploiting those difficulties, by encouraging anti-American sentiment among Iraq's Shiites. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied this.

    "We welcome true democracy and a government run by the people in our neighbor country, but we won't support one specific party," Kharrazi told reporters.

    "Only when a U.N. government takes control in Iraq will there be no more suspicions and accusations from other countries," Kharrazi said.

    Although U.S. officials hope some Iraqi government ministries will reopen next week, there is no firm timetable for installing a provisional government or scheduling democratic elections.

    An initial "all-factions" meeting to discuss the political future was held April 15 in southern Iraq, attended by 80 representatives but boycotted by some groups opposed to the U.S. military presence. A second meeting is expected to be held soon in or near Baghdad.

    One of the leading Shiite clerics in Baghdad, Sayyed Ali al-Kathimi al-Waethi, said he and his followers would not agree to meetings with Garner.

    "People should rule themselves by themselves. The Americans should leave our country peacefully," al-Waethi told The Associated Press.

    According to the Washington Post, the United States plans to introduce a new Security Council resolution next week that will lift sanctions on Iraq and give the U.N. only an advisory role in the postwar administration.