|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Friday, January 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Iraqis balk at U.S. plan for interim government
By Seattle Times news services
The crowd, estimated by British soldiers at 30,000, marched through Basra chanting "No, no USA. Yes, yes for elections" and "Yes, yes Islam. No, no occupation," according to news-service reports. Demonstrators also held up pictures of Shiite leaders, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's highest-ranking Shiite cleric, who spoke out Sunday against the U.S. outline for political transition.
Smaller demonstrations also took place yesterday in Baghdad, Ramadi and Mosul, of a few hundred people each, cautioning against aspects of the U.S. plan for Iraq's future they fear will divide the country.
Sunni Muslims and Kurds fear that the Shiites would sweep the polls and dominate the new government.
The Sunnis historically have ruled Iraq but lost privileges after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Kurds fear losing the autonomy they enjoy in a quasi-democratic enclave that was protected by U.S. air power in the decade before the war.
Under the Bush administration's plan, which was approved by Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council on Nov. 15, caucuses would be held in Iraq's 18 provinces to choose representatives to a transitional assembly. The assembly would choose the provisional government to which the U.S.-led occupation authority is scheduled to transfer power.
U.S. officials say Sistani's demand for elections to choose members of the assembly is unreasonable because a credible election could not be conducted on such short notice.
Sistani, however, has said repeatedly that direct elections are the only acceptable means for selecting members of the transitional assembly.
Sistani met with leading clerics Tuesday in Najaf, and one participant said afterward that jihad, or holy war, was "in the air." While Sistani made no move toward urging violence against occupation forces, the participant said, he did approve yesterday's large demonstration in Basra and smaller ones in several other cities.
The Basra demonstration was peaceful, in contrast with recent protests over unemployment there and in other Shiite towns. But a speaker at a Basra mosque threatened violence if Sistani's demands were not met.
"We do not want to resort to violence, but if it reaches a stalemate, then the coalition will face the wrath of the Iraqi people," Ali Hakim Safi, a senior Basra cleric, told the crowd.
Safi hinted that Sistani is looking for a compromise, and he suggested one might emerge from the United Nations. Bremer and a delegation from Iraq's Governing Council are to meet Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York.
"The U.N. has to have some solution for this," Safi said.
Another leading Shiite cleric told Abu Dhabi television that "if Bremer rejects the opinion of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, then he will issue a fatwa (edict) to deprive the elected council of its legitimacy."
Bush agreed to assign the United Nations what he called a "vital" role, but two subsequent Security Council resolutions left somewhat vague what the United Nations would do, as the United States and Britain began ruling Iraq as an occupation authority.
At a news conference yesterday in Baghdad, the current president of the Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, said he believes Sistani can be convinced elections cannot be held right away.
But even if Sistani relented on immediate elections, "he wants to see a better way of electing the Legislature, better than the one proposed in (the) Nov. 15 agreement," said Pachachi, who met Sistani last week.
Compiled from The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Reuters and The Associated Press.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top