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Powell: U.S. To Select Leaders For Post-War Iraqi Government

By Robin Wright
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday the U.S. military will select emerging leaders in post-war Iraq to help create a new Interim Iraqi Authority to replace Saddam Hussein, but the United Nations will not play a leading role in the political transformation.

The United States is scrambling to pull together the first of several meetings of “free Iraqis,” probably to be held next week at an airbase outside Nasiriyah, to debate the form and makeup of the new local and national governments, according to U.S. officials.

Despite strong warnings from European allies about the need for U.N. involvement in all aspects of post-war Iraq, Powell forcefully rejected the prospects of a U.N. supervisory role in the political process during the transition. The U.N. role should instead focus largely on humanitarian aid and reconstruction issues, he said.

“We believe that the coalition, having invested this political capital and life and treasure into this enterprise, we are going to have a leading role for some time as we shape this process. The people of Iraq will have confidence in us because of who we are and what we’ve done,” Powell said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The process Powell outlined, the most extensive glimpse to date the Administration has given about how it will unfold as the war winds down, could spark new transatlantic tensions. At their Belfast, Northern Ireland, summit just a day earlier, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed that the United Nations would have a “vital role.” But Powell made it clear that the world body’s role would be limited.

America’s top diplomat said he was “not unmindful” of the contribution allies could make in rebuilding Iraq. But he dismissed recent demands by France, Russia and Germany for a “central” U.N. role in Iraq.