Associated Press, Apr. 25, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is ruling out an Iran-style religious government in Iraq as well as any attempt by Syria and others in the region to influence Iraq’s future.
“If you’re suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn’t going to happen,” Rumsfeld said.
On the other hand, Secretary of State Colin Powell said religious Muslims should not be precluded from governing Iraq.
“There are Islamic countries that are having elections — Pakistan, Turkey. It’s happening,” Powell said in an interview Thursday with al-Arabiya, a television station based in Dubai.
“Why cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam not also be democratic?” he asked.
“There are some people who say, well, because you’re practicing Islam you can’t allow people to choose how they will be governed politically. I don’t think Islam presents that,” he said.
“It’s up to the Iraqi people,” Powell said in a separate interview with Free Iraq TV/Radio. “It’s not up to the United States.”
Speaking to the Iraqi people directly for the first time, Powell said “the coalition forces that are there are there to help them” recover from the Baath party leadership.
At the same time, Powell said the Bush administration had expressed concern to Iran that it cease trying to have “undue influence” with Shiites in southern Iraq. “We know there’s some movement in from Iran,” he said.
A senior administration official said President Bush wants a government in Iraq that is democratic, multiethnic, maintains Iraq’s territorial integrity, has no weapons of mass destruction and is at peace with its neighbors.
Shiites in Iraq are the majority Islamic sect, and they disagree on whether to embrace a secular government or an Iran-style theocracy. Some U.S. officials worry that the Islamic government in Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, may seek to influence Iraq’s postwar reshaping.
Interviewed in his Pentagon conference room, Rumsfeld said the Iraqi people, after decades of political repression, need time to adjust to a new reality and to determine for themselves how to organize a new government and elections.
The president made a similar point Thursday in a speech to workers at a tank factory in Ohio.
“One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq,” Bush said. “We will help that nation build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.”
Due to travel soon to Iraq, Rumsfeld also said that U.S. and British forces were searching for many more former members of the Saddam Hussein government than the 55 on a “most wanted” list.
“In fact we have a list of some 200,” he said. “That original list was purposely kept low at the outset because we wanted to separate the worst people from the regime, hoping that others would come forward.”
Rumsfeld said more of the top 55 have been captured in the past day or so than have been announced. He gave no details and said that once the identities were verified they would be made public.
U.S. forces in Iraq have taken custody of Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister and the most visible Iraqi leader other than Saddam.
On the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted members of the former government, Aziz was No. 43, the eight of spades in the military’s card deck of top Iraqi leaders.
His prominence in the regime could make Aziz a source for the best information yet on the fate of the former Iraqi leader and his two sons, as well as on the location of any hidden weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday night the arrest of another top Iraq official, in Syria, would be announced shortly.
Graham, at a session of the Council on Foreign Relations, declined to identify the Iraqi, saying only that he had held one of the most sensitive positions in the Iraqi government and was arrested in the past 24 hours.
The senator accused the Bush administration of “failed diplomacy” on Iraq and said U.S. relationships and alliances should be rebuilt. He also called for including the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq.