AMERICA TO LEAD IRAQ FOR A YEAR OR TWO, KURDISH SOURCES SAY

By an IPS Correspondent

ANKARA 13 Feb (IPS) The head of the US military's Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, will rule Iraq in the initial aftermath of a US invasion to overthrow President Saddam Hoseyn, US officials and Iraqi Kurds revealed Wednesday.

US Administration officials briefed senators Tuesday on post war planning, stressing that the US goal is "to liberate Iraq, not to occupy it," and last week a US envoy told leaders of Iraqi groups opposed to Hoseyn about American intentions.

The senators were told that even under good circumstances, it would take two years before the military could fully transfer control to an Iraqi government. As presented, the plan recalls post war Germany and Japan, where American military occupations paved the way for transfers of power to democratic and constitutionally backed governments.

On Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s most powerful man after Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the regime, warned the US that Tehran would not accept the installation of a puppet government in Baghdad.

"We do not allow the Americans to remain in the region", Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is also the Head of the Expediency Council, said, adding that the United States seems to ignore the consequences of their dangerous plans.

"The US representative on Iraq issue who is of the Afghan origin has said the US plans to remain in the region and take control of Iraq for several years", Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani said, referring to Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad.

He said Iran want Iraq to remain an Islamic country ruled by a government elected by the Iraqi people while its territorial integrity be guaranteed. "It is an undeniable fact that Iraq has created many problems for its neighbours, in particular Iran and Kuwait, but the Iranians do not tolerate the US ruling Iraq".

"The Americans are after either getting control of Iraq without a war or taking control of Iraq through a deadly war, which brings about very bad effects in the region. The US makes an effort to dominate over the energy resources of the region through a war while advising the US leaders to consider this fact that the regional states would not allow them to rob their natural wealth", he said.

Some Iraqi opposition leaders have also attacked the plan, saying it amounts to a US military rule of Iraq that will favour the existing power structure in the country.

Instead of turning Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, an ambition articulated by some US policymakers, the opposition leaders say the US plan seems designed to ease the fears of Arabs and Turks unhappy with the prospect of a democratic, federal Iraq.

However, most Iraqi Kurds, who have benefited from the American-British protection in the last decade say the "key thing" for then is getting rid of Saddam Hoseyn, the Iraqi dictator who had used deadly chemical weapons agains them, as against the Iranians.

Some elements of Iraq's fractious opposition, including groups funded by the US, have been determined to form a government-in-waiting in order to ensure that Iraq's sovereignty stays in Iraqi hands. They argue that Iraqis will see even a temporary US administration of Iraq as occupation, engendering anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East.

Even so, the US has decided to run the country itself, although the structure outlined to Congress and the opposition groups envisions a "consultative council" of Iraqis selected by the US to advise American administrators.

"To be kind, it is unworkable. Either reason will prevail, or time will demonstrate to the authors [of the US plan] the error of their ways," says Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, who is backed by the US and is now living in Northern Iraq.

Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday that "Central Iraqi government ministries could remain in place and perform the key functions of government after the vetting of the top personnel to remove any who might be tainted with the crimes and excesses of the current regime."

This formula sounds to some Iraqi opposition leaders as though much of Iraq's existing power structure, dominated by Hoseyn's ruling Ba’ath Party, will maintain its role.

"Power is being handed, essentially on a platter, to the second echelon of the Ba’ath Party and the [Iraqi] Army officer corps", says Kanan Makiya, an adviser to Mr. Chalabi who discussed post war Iraq with President Bush on 10 January.

"It's going to have the opposite effect to what US wants it to have", he adds.

The US plan also imagines, in Feith's words, a "Constitutional commission ... to draft a new Constitution and submit it to the Iraqi people for ratification."

Last week, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad briefed in Ankara some of the groups opposed to Saddam Hoseyn and told them about the American plan for Iraq.

Mr. Jalal Talebani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and a leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which represents major elements of the country's Shiite community, were present in the Ankara meetings.

Both Kurds and Shiites rebelled unsuccessfully against Hussein after the Gulf war, thinking the US would defend them. Instead the US stood back as Saddam’s Republican Guard crushed the uprisings.

The Kurds and Shiites are important to the US in part because both have men under arms. But they are also groups that may pose complexities.

Long disenfranchised by Hoseyn, despite their majority status, the Shi’ites want to see a more just distribution of power in a new Iraq. This desire makes the US wary, since Iran’s theocratic rulers support SCIRI, the main Shi’ite group. The US would like Iran's role in Iraq kept to a minimum.

Makiya asserts that installing a US military ruler "is certified, guaranteed to make the SCIRI leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a major player in Iraq because he's gong to run in ... elections, along with the rest of the opposition, on an anti-occupation platform."

The Kurds want at least to preserve the de facto autonomy they have gained over the past decade, and have insisted that the new Iraq adopt a federal system of government.

But federalism makes both Turkey and Iran anxious, on the theory that an autonomous Kurdish area in a federal Iraq might inspire their Kurds to seek something similar.

While the Kurds have been relentlessly suppressed by the Kurds, who, until now, deny the existence of the Kurds on the territory, calling them Mountain people instead, in Iran, where they are considered as the same origin, they have equal status as other Iranians, except for their cultural rights, which is denied to them by the central government.

At the same time, Turkish cooperation is an important feature of US war planning, which may explain why US officials "told the Kurds to be very, very careful and very realistic about federalism," in Chalabi's rendition of events in Ankara.

As some Turkish forces are already deployed in northern Iraq to be used to open the way for the U.S. troops, Turkish sources have stressed that Turkey has no intention of entering northern Iraq to grab the rich oil fields of the region or control Kerkuk and Mosul.

"We will be there and cooperate and coordinate with the Americans and the Iraqi Kurds in a joint operation to secure a better future for the Iraqi people if war becomes inevitable", the English-Language Turkish Daily News quoted a highly placed government sources.

The reason why Turkish forces want to remain in northern Iraq is two fold: One is to provide humanitarian aid and the second is to be in the region to monitor the activities of the PKK separatist terrorists. Turkish officials say the PKK exploited the Gulf War in 1991 to the detriment of Turkey but will not be allowed to do so this time.

But the US approach may increase the comfort level of some US friends in the Arab world, who preside over autocratic regimes and who may be uneasy with an effort to create a Western-style democracy in their midst. ENDS AFTER SADDAM 13203