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Iraqis Question U.S. Actions on Gov’t

May 1, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Until three weeks ago, Jasam Khalaf spent his entire life under Baath Party rule. Now it’s over, and _ from his vantage point in the slums of Thawra _ he’s ready for the next chapter.

``We are tired,″ Khalaf, 27, said.

``We want a government that gives us our rights,″ he said, strolling Wednesday down the street in flip-flops, past garbage-choked streets and roaming sheep and goats in the neighborhood once known as Saddam City.

Still, he and other Iraqis are worried: They fear American forces are moving too fast in their efforts to form a post-Saddam Hussein administration _ and that the results will fall short of what they hope for.

On Monday, the civilian wing of the U.S. military oversaw a meeting of Iraqi political factions attempting the initial, small steps toward a new government.

They promised a leadership that would represent the people and would let Iraqis run Iraq. And they expressed confidence that it would arrive, at least in preliminary form, in little more than a month.

On the streets of the capital, most Iraqis agree the country must have a government that gives people a voice, respects human rights and excludes members of Saddam’s ruthless Baath Party.

But many express suspicion at the U.S. timetable. There’s too much to do, they say, in so little time.

And that concern leads to a rush of anxious questions: Will the new government be an American puppet leadership? Will the civil administrator, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, declare himself president? Will a government be able to consolidate control? Can democracy replace tyranny without creating chaos?

Most of all _ will there be enough to eat?

``It is impossible for a government to be formed that quickly because the people of Iraq are very mixed,″ said Abdel-Razzak Abdel-Zahra, 35, a civil engineer. ``A 40-year-old state was overthrown within days, so can a government be formed within days? I don’t think so. I think we need months.″

Some Iraqis advocate an outcome that makes the United States nervous: Islamic rule for a nation where Islam’s two major sects, Saddam’s Sunnis and the majority Shiites, have never quite gotten along.

``I am for an Islamic government, but America will not accept it because Iran and Iraq will be a real danger to Israel,″ said Abbas Zaki, 33, a pharmacist.

Though in the end, he said, ``We want a decision that will bring stability quickly.″

But civil engineer, Mahdi Zaki, 27, called an Islamic government for Iraq impossible because ``Iraq is made up of different sects.″

Many of Iraq’s Shiites, gathering in Najaf, south of Baghdad, for a religious holiday, also want Islamic rule. But Washington worries that would produce undue influence from Iran, Iraq’s eastern neighbor, a Shiite Muslim state and part of President Bush’s ``axis of evil.″

Foremost in many Baghdadis’ minds is dread of Saddam’s Baath party, which ruled the country since 1968, tolerated no opposition and executed those who crossed it.

``We don’t want any government that includes the Baath Party or Iraqi tribes that supported Saddam’s regime. We don’t want any of them to have any posts,″ said businessman Hamed Badr, 31, who was looking for a relative Wednesday at an organization that tracks missing Iraqis.

``What we want is a fair rule that does not include the Baath and the gangs that supported it,″ said Badr, sipping tea as he sat along the Tigris River.

But, he allowed, importing officials won’t be easy, either.

Some people are suspicious of Iraqi opposition leaders who lived in exile and are now returning with designs on running the country. It doesn’t sit well that people who left, and thus didn’t endure Saddam, might be in charge.

For Mohammed Joumaa, a 34-year-old merchant, that was why Monday’s meeting ``was a failure.″

``All those who took part were living in apartments in London and don’t know the suffering of the Iraqi people,″ Joumaa said.

He, too, scoffed at the idea that a new government could be formed in four weeks. ``It will be postponed for other periods until Jay Garner controls Iraq more and more. They’ve postponed for four weeks, and they will postpone again.″

Kathem Qasem, a 30-year-old vendor, put it more succinctly.

``We want a democratic government,″ he said. ``It should not be that one Saddam leaves and another Saddam comes.″

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