Angry Iraqis Demand Right to Rule Themselves

Tue June 03, 2003 03:48 PM ET

By Andrew Marshall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Muslim clerics led thousands of protesters through Baghdad's streets Tuesday, telling U.S. and British forces to withdraw or face violence, as Iraqi political groups demanded more say in their country's future.

The Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of parties that opposed Saddam Hussein mainly from exile, insisted that Iraqis rather than Americans should pick the interim Iraqi leadership that will help steer the country toward democracy.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in charge of Iraq had been expected to convene a national conference in July to select an interim Iraqi leadership. But U.S. officials said during the weekend they would instead name a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis after consulting a broad range of Iraqi opinion.

"This government will not be effective or useful for the Iraqi people," Entifadh Qanbar, a senior Iraqi National Congress official, told a news conference.

"Anything less than the Iraqis choosing their own interim government will not succeed. The Iraqis were oppressed by Saddam and want to rule themselves."

The Iraqi National Congress, headed by former banker Ahmad Chalabi, is one of seven major political groups briefed by U.S. officials Sunday on the new political plan.

The groups are due to give their response to U.S. administrator Paul Bremer later this month, but many have already criticized the scrapping of the national conference.

A CPA spokesman said a wide array of Iraqis would be consulted "with a view to trying to establish the political council and the constitutional convention as soon as possible."


Many Iraqis who welcomed the fall of Saddam are growing impatient with the pace of change. Angry crowds take to the streets almost daily to demand that foreign troops leave.

"We advise you to leave our country or you will make enemies out of us," said Shi'ite cleric Muaaed al-Khazraji in a speech after a march by Muslim protesters to the headquarters of the U.S.-led administration.

"Please go home and we will be very grateful because you got rid of Saddam."

The protesters, both Shi'ite and Sunni, demanded an end to body searches of Iraqi women at security checkpoints, and called for the establishment of a government run by Iraqis.

Repeated attacks have been mounted on U.S. troops in Baghdad and nearby provinces. U.S. Central Command said an American soldier died Monday after a checkpoint came under small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire near Balad, 55 miles from Baghdad.

Local farmer Mahmoud al-Ubaidi said hostility toward the Americans was mounting in the town.

"The Iraqi people have just started war on them. The uprising of the Iraqi people has started now," he said. "They are treating us in a humiliating way, searching our cars and women. We will teach them a lesson if they continue."

The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, met Bremer for two hours of talks on the political process.

International divisions persisted over the decision to invade Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac repeated his condemnation of the war at the end of the Group of Eight summit in France, but urged cooperation to help rebuild the country.

Bechtel, the U.S. firm given the prime contract to rebuild Iraq, said it would farm out most subcontracts to Iraqi firms, not the thousands of foreign ones clamoring for a share.

"The whole idea is to spend this money to get the economy up and operating. That means you should spend it in Iraq," Senior Vice President Cliff Mumm told reporters in Baghdad.

Among the unfinished business of the Iraq war is the uncertain fate of Saddam and his family. His son Uday's former body double said Uday was in hiding in Baghdad as recently as 11 days ago, agonizing over whether to turn himself in to U.S. forces.

"He sits in his wheelchair crying, he can't go outside because he knows he'll be killed," Latif Yahia said in Dublin.

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