April 15 —
Iraqis began building a new government under American guidance on
Tuesday and received an assurance that the United States has no
desire to rule their country. "Our victory in Iraq is certain, but
it is not complete," said President Bush.
After 27 days of fighting and the certainty of an interim
U.S.-led governing authority anti-American anger flared. But U.S.
forces also won cooperation from Iraqis eager to restore order and
vital services to their war-torn land.
There was little fighting reported, but no shortage of business
for the tens of thousands of troops still in Iraq. U.S.-led forces
consolidated their hold in Tikrit and other areas not fully under
their control, hunted for evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of
mass destruction and sought information on U.S. prisoners of
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he
believed troops had shut down an illegal oil pipeline said to export
up to 200,000 barrels of oil daily to Syria.
Under a gold-colored tent at one of Saddam's former military
bases, dozens of Iraqis and exiles met under U.S. auspices to begin
discussions on a postwar government.
White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad assured the group the United
States has "no interest, absolutely no interest, in ruling
The United States showcased the meeting picking the site near Ur,
the biblical birthplace of Abraham and flying in reporters.
Dozens of representatives from Iraqi factions attended, exiles
and in-country residents among them.
Others boycotted, though, amid opposition to an interim authority
to be established under the direction of Jay Garner, a retired U.S.
The group released a 13-point statement that said the new Iraq
must be democratic, the rule of law must be paramount and Saddam's
Baath Party "must be dissolved and its effects on society must be
It wasn't immediately clear whether the paper was drafted by U.S.
officials in advance of the meeting.
Participants voted to meet again in 10 days.
Half a world away, Bush stopped short of a formal declaration of
victory in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Today the world is safer, the terrorists have lost an ally, the
Iraqi people are regaining control of their own destiny. These are
good days for the history of freedom," he said.
There was another sign that the war was nearing an end. French
President Jacques Chirac, a prominent critic of the war, telephoned
Bush. In their first conversation in more than two months, Chirac
appeared to soften his demand that the United Nations have a central
role in postwar reconstruction.
After nearly a quarter-century of living under a regime that
punished dissent with death, Iraqis experimented with freedom of
"No to America and no to Saddam," chanted thousands of Shiite
protesters in Nasiriyah, objecting to the U.S.-sponsored conference
held not far outside that southern city.
"Americans are against freedom and democracy," shouted one man in
Tikrit, Saddam's birthplace and the last major population center to
fall to U.S.-led forces.
And in Kut, military officials said hundreds of protesters
blocked Marines from entering city hall to meet a radical
anti-American Shiite cleric who has declared himself in control.
There were ample signs, though, of Iraqis welcoming and
cooperating with the American forces who established an armed
presence in their midst. Some Marines in Tikrit wore flowers in
their uniforms, gifts from residents of the city.
Joint Iraqi-U.S. patrols made their first forays into Baghdad.
American commanders reported ample assistance from Iraqis eager to
help the troops uncover some of the regime's secrets.
"We're getting millions of these tips, some credible, some not so
credible," said Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp. The United States was
offering incentives, too. Defense officials said the Pentagon would
pay rewards of up to $200,000 for information on the whereabouts of
Soldiers patrolling northern Baghdad found a mobile AM radio
station in a warehouse at the Iraqi railroad yard, and worked to
clear a city park from hundreds of munitions left from an Iraqi
artillery and mortar position.
In his remarks, Bush said the war marked a "crucial advance in
the war against terror." And despite accusations leveled against
Syria in recent days by administration officials, Secretary of State
Colin Powell said there are no plans for a military move against the
Powell said Iraq was "a unique case" that required U.S. military
Officials have accused Syria of having a program to develop
weapons of mass destruction, and of providing safe harbor to regime
leaders fleeing Iraq. Syria has denied the charges.
The meeting near Ur took place close to a 4,000-year-old
ziggurat, a terraced-pyramid temple of the ancient Assyrians and
Babylonians. Participants included Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites from
inside the country as well as others who have been in exile.
Americans picked the groups to be represented, but each faction
selected its own representatives.
There were some boycotts, one of several indications of the
difficulty confronting those attempting to build a government where
religious and ethnic rivalries flourish. In addition, some Iraqi
opposition leaders fear the United States is trying to impose Ahmed
Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress opposition group, as
leader of a new Iraqi administration.
Even some of those at the meeting said they opposed U.S.
"We will press for any Iraqi civilian administration regardless
of what the Americans say. An administration by Garner is not
acceptable," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, an Iraqi physician and
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of the leaders of the Daawa party, an
influential Shiite group, turned down his invitation. "We have our
reservations against attending a meeting called for by a military
side," he said.
"Iraq needs an Iraqi interim government. Anything other than this
tramples the rights of the Iraqi people and will be a return to the
era of colonization," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, a leader of the largest
Iraqi Shiite group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in
|Delegates listen to remarks at
the opening of the US-sponsored meeting on post-war Iraq
Tuesday April 15, 2003 at the Tallil Air Base, near of
Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq. The United States convened a
meeting of Iraqi opposition groups for the first time since
Saddam Hussein's fall to spell out its vision of the initial
steps for Iraq's future. (AP Photo/Tim Sloan,
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