US, Britain Poised to Have Final Say in Iraq

The United States and Britain appeared to be the top decision-maker in Iraq on Thursday when the two allies made clear their stand on a future Iraqi government, and weapons inspections in the country, and announced the restart of Iraqi national ministries next week.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the US will not permit an Iranian-style theocratic government to run the postwar Iraq.

"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," he said in an interview with The Associated Press in his Pentagon conference room.

"The next step is to see that the Iraqi people begin to be involved in their communities and in the development of a national government," he said.

"This is beginning to happen," Rumsfeld said, citing as an example of the joint Iraqi-US security patrols carried out in some areas.

Rumsfeld urged caution and patience as Iraq establishes first an "interim authority" in Baghdad, to be followed by a fully fledged government and a mechanism for drafting a national constitution. "There will be the beginning of an interim authority soon."

In Iraq, US-imposed civil administrator Jay Garner told a press conference in Baghdad that Iraq's national ministries will start to function again next week.

Iraqis would be running the ministries with the coordination of a US official in each, said the 65-year-old retired US general.

For those ministries destroyed in US-British bombing raids on the Iraqi capital, alternate premises would be located and new equipment would be purchased, Garner said.

He said US-led coalition forces in Iraq had restarted some oil and gas production in the north and south of the country to meet the needs of the Iraqi people.

And Britain on Thursday echoed senior US officials' remarks two days earlier on who should carry out the weapons inspections in Iraq after the war, saying the task might not fall to the United Nations.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told BBC Radio 4's Today program that another country outside the coalition -- but with the appropriate laboratory facilities to analyze particular chemicals and pre-cursors for nerve agents -- could be used, suggesting the UN may be sidelined in searching for Saddam's banned weapons.

"We have always said it is important there should be an independent element of verification, whether that is through the UN or through the assistance of another country," said Hoon.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday that the coalition was taking on the responsibility for disarming Iraq and would continue to do the job.

While the US search for weapons of mass destruction produced no convincing results to prove its allegations, US President George W.Bush on Thursday raised the possibility that Iraq had destroyed banned weapons of mass destruction before US-led coalition forces began the war against President Saddam Hussein's government.

"It's going to take time to find them. But we know he had them, and whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we're goingto find out the truth," Bush said during a tour of a factory that makes the Abrams tank in Lima, Ohio.

Although Bush declined to declare the war in Iraq over, US forces have already started to bring some of its forces home after completing their mission in war-torn Iraq.

Fourteen US B-52 bombers based in Britain on Thursday began leaving the Royal Air Force's Fairford base in Gloucestershire, western England, after flying more than 100 missions to the Gulf.

Six B-52s have already left Fairford on their way back to airbase in America, a US Air Force spokesman was quoted as saying. All 14 aircraft would be gone within the next few days.

Fairford is a NATO-designated forward base for US warplanes, and was also used by the bombers during the 1991 Gulf war and the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

The huge planes were expected to return to US Air Force bases in Minot, North Dakota, and Barksdale, Louisiana, Major Laurent Fox said. "Some may be deployed to continue the war on terrorism in other locations," he added.

Also on Thursday, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution, extending its emergency arrangements for running the oil-for-food program in Iraq until June 3.

The 15 members of the council voted unanimously for the resolution providing for a technical rollover of the arrangements while they discussed the future of the program in postwar Iraq.

People's Daily Online ---