DUBAI: Iraq's fractious opposition appears to have been thrown off balance by declared US plans to set up a military government in Baghdad after the eventual ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Several major opposition factions and figures have loudly denounced what one called the intended perpetuation of Saddamism without Saddam, but the US plan has found some takers among the motley of groups seeking the overthrow of the Iraqi leader.
And on the eve of what is supposed to be a crucial meeting in territory off limits to Saddam's forces in northern Iraq, there were conflicting reports on whether the dissidents would try to pre-empt the US plan by forming the nucleus of a provisional government that would ultimately take over in Baghdad.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell chose an Arab platform to vow that any military administration that would follow a US-led invasion of Iraq would be short-lived and would transfer authority to a civilian leadership, perhaps initially of an international character.
In an interview with the just-launched Al-Arabiya news channel on Friday, Powell spoke of grooming a new Iraqi leadership consisting of people who are outside the country right now in the opposition as well as those who are inside the country who ... are committed to the same values that those outside the country are.
Fair enough, according to the leader of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM), an Iraqi opposition group that is seeking the restoration of the monarchy toppled in a 1958 coup.
The Americans have made clear that they would want to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and that they will co-operate with Iraqis inside the country to secure the borders, maintain internal security and establish democratic rule, al-Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein said from London.
Some opposition parties are misreading the US position, while others may be misrepresenting it in order to justify putting in place the structure of a provisional government before Saddam's ouster instead of allowing the Iraqi people to pick their own government once he is gone, he said.
The CMM is boycotting the opposition meeting due to get under way by tomorrow in the Iraqi Kurdish enclave after being repeatedly postponed since mid-January, according to organisers because it objects to apparent plans to lay the ground for an interim government there.
Ahmad Chalabi, the main figure in the Iraqi National Congress (INC) opposition umbrella who champions the idea of a provisional government, has called the proposed US occupation of Iraq unworkable and unwise.
Unworkable, because it is predicated on keeping Saddam's existing structures of government, administration and security in place albeit under American officers.
Unwise, because it will result in long-term damage to the US-Iraq relationship and America's position in the region and beyond, he wrote in the Feb 19 edition of the Wall Street Journal.
Hamed al-Bayati of the Teheran-based Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sairi), the main Iraqi Shiite opposition group, said the concept of a military administration flew in the face of Washington's promise not to perpetuate Saddam's rule under a different name. AFP