Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Shi'ite group to boycott talks on Iraq

The main Iraqi Shi'ite opposition group said on Wednesday it would boycott a political meeting the United States is trying to arrange in southern Iraq next week because of the U.S. military presence."We are not going to take part in this meeting in Nassiriya. We think this is part of General Garner's rule of Iraq and we are not going to be part of that project at all," said Hamid al-Bayati, the London representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).The Bush administration has appointed retired Lt. Gen Jay Garner to run civilian affairs in Iraq alongside the U.S. and British military presence.The United States has identified some 40 Iraqi politicians it wants to take part in preliminary discussions on the political future of the country after the collapse of the Baathist government of President Saddam Hussein.SCIRI, which is based in Tehran and dominated by Iraqi Shi'ites, is one of the largest single groups in opposition to Saddam. It has taken part in meetings with other groups but has always been wary of cooperation with the United States.Bayati told Reuters by telephone from London that SCIRI's objection to U.S. plans was that Washington envisaged an interim authority without full sovereignty over the country.

"We could be part of an Iraqi government but we can't be part of a military rule over the country," he said.