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Iraqi Exiles to Return

Iraqi Exiles to Return

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is sending to Baghdad teams of Iraqi exiles with professional experience suited to rebuilding the government in postwar Iraq, defense officials said Saturday.

The group comprises small teams of individuals selected for the kinds of expertise needed to revive various government ministries such as oil, public health, industry and transportation. The teams have been assembled by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.

Wolfowitz said in an interview Saturday that about 150 Iraqis who have been living in the United States or Europe have volunteered to go back, and a small number already have gone.

"We're moving people in as fast as we can have the facilities to support them," Wolfowitz said.

"They represent a talent pool of people who not only have, in almost all cases, very substantial technical skills" but also have a good understanding of how free societies function, he said.

Their mission is to advise American officials in Iraq on what is needed to get the ministries functioning again. Additionally, they will act as a "cultural liaison" between the Americans in charge of establishing an interim Iraqi administration and the Iraqis who emerge as candidates to lead the country.

This work is one facet of the Bush administration's undertaking to establish a democratic government of its liking in Baghdad. At the same time, the administration seeks to restore civil order, defeat remnants of paramilitary resistance, capture former leaders of President Saddam Hussein's deposed government and work against the perception among some that the United States is imposing an administration on the Iraqis.

It coincides with efforts by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner to create an interim authority in Iraq by the end of May that would lay groundwork for the election of new leaders.

The U.S. military is committed to staying in Iraq until a new government is functioning and stable and Iraq is disarmed.

The goal of the Iraqi exiles, who are organized as the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, is to provide the technical and professional expertise to get government ministries running again.

The functioning ministries then would be turned over to the interim authority, Wolfowitz said.

These Iraqis have been living in exile in the United States and Europe since the 1970s and 1980s, and some worked in Iraqi government ministries before fleeing the country, another official said.

In another step toward creating the interim authority, Garner is convening a meeting in Baghdad on Monday of representatives of various Iraqi interests, including Kurds and the Iraqi National Congress.

Wolfowitz said Saturday that the Baghdad meeting is a follow-on to a session held April 15 near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. That session agreed on a set of 13 principles. Among them: Iraq must be democratic, the Baath Party must be dissolved and a future government should be organized as a federal system.

U.S. officials expected perhaps as many as 150 Iraqis to attend Monday's meeting, about twice the number at the April 15 meeting. Some representatives of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group based in Iran, have said they will boycott the meeting because Iraqis, not Americans, should be in charge of inviting participants.

The council's leader, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, has been invited, however, and he is expected to attend. He and five other key leaders of Iraqi political factions were not invited to the April 15 meeting but are expected at Monday's, Wolfowitz said.

The five others are Ayad Alawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, a Sunni Muslim group; Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, a Shiite group; Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani; and Adnan Pachachi of the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement. Pachachi was foreign minister in the government toppled by Saddam's Baath Party in its 1968 coup.

Wolfowitz said he hoped Monday's meeting would produce, at the very least, "a feeling that the Iraqis are taking over the process" of building a new future in the aftermath of Saddam's regime.

Among approximately 150 Iraqi exiles heading to Baghdad from the United States are Emad Dhia, who left Friday. He is an engineer who has been living in Michigan and heads the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, a political action group formed in the United States in 1998. Dhia will be the top Iraqi adviser to Garner.

Others are chemists, physicians, information specialists and other technocrats.

The group was put together before the Iraq war started and have been working from an office near the Pentagon.

Some of the exiles have chosen to keep their identities secret for fear of reprisals by Iraqis who might view them as American agents. Many have friends and family members in Iraq, the defense official said. Fear of a comeback by Saddam's Baathists remains strong among some Iraqis.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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