WAR IN IRAQ 2003:oust Saddam - but What Then?

Article excerpt

ONE of the toughest choices facing hawks determined to topple Saddam Hussein is how to replace the Iraqi dictator.

Regime change has been talked about as one of the West's top priorities, yet little has been agreed, even for the immediate aftermath of war.

Both the US and exiled Iraqi opposition groups want a non-military interim leadership to help usher in democracy, and the establishment of war crimes trials for Saddam and his inner circle.

The US administration has reportedly scaled down plans to install a military leader - probably General Tommy Franks - over fears it could inflame anti- American feeling.

Instead it envisages a short-term military rule, followed by a civilian administrator who would run Iraq, possibly under the auspices of the UN, before elections could be held.

They would be tasked with rebuilding the war-shattered country, using revenue from the oilfields, and would have the back-up power of a military occupation lasting at least 18 months.

Troops from the "coalition of the willing", including a large British contingent, would protect the oilfields and oversee the destruction of any remaining weapons of mass destruction.

It would be the most ambitious occupation since the end of the Second World War and the military commander is expected to have unquestioned authority.

The ongoing military presence will help prevent insurgency and terrorism, but will also combat any threat from neighbouring states seeking to muscle in on a weakened Iraq.

In an apparent warning to other countries the US has insisted it wants to preserve Iraq as a state, with its "territorial integrity intact", a view Jack Straw has echoed.

Once those immediate threats are tackled, the gradual handover of power could begin, but here the plans of the US and those of the Iraqi opposition appear to split.

Representatives from 50 ethnic, political and religious groups met in London last December and agreed to set up a 65-member committee to form the basis of any future Iraqi government.

It called for elections to be held within two years of any initial coalition authority, but the US is reported to see the exiled opposition groups as an increasingly spent force, and to have lost interest in the idea of a government in exile, ready to take power.

One exile who has found favour with the US is Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic leader of the London-based opposition group the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Dr Chalabi, who has been dubbed an Iraqi equivalent of the new, West- friendly Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, could become interim president while preparations are made for free and democratic elections.

He does not enjoy widespread popularity within the Arab world and was convicted of theft and embezzlement in 1992 in Jordan, following the collapse of the Petra Bank. …