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New Iraqi govt. months away, says Wolfowitz

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

WASHINGTON APRIL 7. As American intelligence agencies are reportedly confident that the collapse of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein's regime is only "days" and not weeks away, the Bush administration is trying to make the point that a new Iraqi government will be set up and running in about six months time — that is, after the coalition forces secure the country. At the same time, Washington is stressing that the ultimate objective is not to impose anything from outside.

"The goal is not to install some particular group as the new leaders of Iraq. That absolutely contradicts the whole notion of democracy," argued the Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the top hawks in the War Council of this Republican administration. But academics have said that it is a "pipe dream" — talking about "democracy" in Iraq in such a short span of time.

Mr. Wolfowitz would not get into the specifics of a time-table for Iraq, only noting that it took six months for a government to form in northern Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991. "This is a more complicated situation. It probably will take more time than that," the senior administration official said while doing the Sunday talk shows.

The number two civilian official at the Pentagon said the Bush administration was not really interested in talking about democracy and then turning around and choosing leaders of post-conflict Iraq. At the same time, he was insistent that while the United Nations would have a role to play, Washington was not for the world body to be in supervising and running the show.

`Not another Kosovo'

The Bush administration has been making it clear that Iraq is not going to be another Kosovo or East Timor. "It is not a model we want to follow, of a sort of permanent international administration," Mr. Wolfowitz remarked. "I think the right goal is to move as quickly as we can... to a government that is, if I could paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, of the Iraqis, by the Iraqis and for the Iraqis. Not to make them a colonial administration or a U.N. administration or run in any way by foreigners," he said.

But an Iraqi Opposition leader, who is one of Washington's closest allies, argued that the U.S. military might have to stay in Iraq for as long as two years. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress has said that he expects a constitution to be ratified "within two years." Mr. Chalabi has been meriting a lot of attention in this country and for different reasons — he has been apparently sentenced to 22 years hard labour in Jordan for bank fraud and embezzlement; and from the conflict point of view, had advised the administration that a U.S.-led invasion would quickly lead to an uprising. Analysts are pointing to the fact that the fighting is now in the third week and no popular uprising has been seen thus far.

Iraq's future

The future of Iraq will be on top of the agenda when the President, George W. Bush, meets the Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, at a working dinner on Monday night at the Hillsborough Castle, south of Belfast. This is the third time the two leaders are meeting in the last three weeks. One of the differences between the two is over the role of the United Nations — Mr. Blair sees a stronger role for the world body than Mr. Bush.

In New York, the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has asked for the Security Council to meet so that he could discuss issues relating to Iraq. Permanent members such as Russia, France and China are not willing to do anything that would be seen as the Council endorsing what the United States and Britain have done. Major powers at the U.N. are for playing a key role in the post-conflict Iraq; but the Bush administration has said that this role will largely be confined to humanitarian activities and in the realm of reconstruction but nowhere near the political scheme of things.

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