© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2003
LONDON -- The people of Iraq will choose their future government in democratic elections, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday, trying to dispel fears that Washington will appoint a puppet administration.
"The United States has not anointed anyone to be the future leader of Iraq or to be the leader of the interim Iraqi authority," Powell said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
"We believe very strongly that the Iraqi people and the representatives of the Iraqi people should do that. We are not in the business of installing the next president of Iraq," Powell told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost program.
A U.S. envoy will meet with Iraqi opposition leaders Tuesday in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Officials said the meeting will be a first step toward forming a government that would take power after an interim U.S. administration.
MILITIA SENT TO BAGHDAD: The Pentagon has ordered U.S. forces in Nasiriyah to quickly deploy a U.S.-sponsored opposition militia to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, American and Iraqi exile sources said Sunday.
The lightly armed Free Iraqi Forces, part of the Iraqi National Congress exile group, will be assigned to help U.S. troops impose order on the chaotic Iraqi capital.
The INC is led by Ahmed Chalabi, 58, a former banker and longtime exile who has sought to play a leading role in Iraq's postwar future. His advisers made it clear they regard the shift to Baghdad as an opportunity for him to begin political work in the capital.
KUWAIT CITY -- A mob surrounded the home of Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric and demanded that he and other top clerics leave the country, the latest instance of bitter rivalries erupting in the holy city of Najaf, Shiite leaders in neighboring Kuwait said Sunday.
Sayyed Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri, who heads the Congregation of Muslim Shiah Olama in Kuwait, called on U.S. and British forces to protect Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani and the other clerics.
The report pointed to the fissures among Shiite factions in Najaf and underscored the difficulties that could face the new U.S.-led interim administration for Iraq. On Thursday, a mob in Najaf hacked to death a Shiite leader who had called for reconciliation.
Shiites make up some 60 percent of Iraq's population.
Al-Mehri claimed that a mob and agents from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party demonstrated outside al-Sistani's home Saturday and demanded both he and another top cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Ishaq Fayyad, leave Iraq within 48 hours. Al-Mehri said he had spoken to colleagues in Najaf about the incident.
The demonstration ended, but the threats still existed, al-Mehri said without elaborating. He said his group also feared for the life of a third cleric, Ayatollah Mohamed Saeed al-Hakim.
SANA, Yemen -- Yemen granted asylum to Iraq's ambassador to Egypt on Sunday, top Foreign Ministry officials said, while Spain ordered seven Iraqi embassy officials to leave the country.
Mohsen Khalil, Iraq's ambassador to Yemen from 1991 to 1996 and to Egypt since 1999, applied to Yemen's consulate in Cairo on Wednesday for asylum, the officials said on condition of anonymity. He was expected to arrive within a day.
In Madrid, the decision to declare seven Iraqi embassy officials personae non gratae was conveyed Sunday to the Iraqi charge d'affaires, Abdelaziz Hussein, according to a ministry spokesman, customarily not identified. Hussein was not among the seven and the embassy will remain open, the spokesman said.
The seven must leave within 72 hours. No reason for the expulsion was given.