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Tariq Aziz, often the public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, was undergoing questioning Friday after surrendering to U.S. forces. Looking ahead, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Washington won't allow an Iranian-style Islamic government in Iraq.
Iran in turn rejected Bush administration accusations that it is interfering in Iraq. It said the United Nations - not the United States - should run an interim postwar government.
The commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks, said those troops could remain for "months, or a year or two" to ensure stability as Iraqis develop their new government.
"The fact is we don't know how long it'll take ... because we do not yet know exactly how devoted the Iraqis themselves will be in getting over their own tribal and ethnic and religious difficulties," Franks said in an interview in Friday's St. Petersburg Times.
Those difficulties could include a drive for an Islamic government by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, which was repressed under Saddam.
Rumsfeld said the United States - which has promised to let Iraqis choose their own government - will not permit the establishment of a religious government comparable to the one in neighboring Iran.
Still, Secretary of State Colin Powell said devout Muslims should not be precluded from a role in governing Iraq.
"There are Islamic countries that are having elections, Pakistan. Turkey. It's happening," Powell said in an interview with al-Arabiya, a television station based in Dubai.
"Why can't an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam be democratic?" he asked.
Aziz, the deputy prime minister of the toppled government, was the only Christian in Saddam's inner circle, most of whom were Sunni Muslims. Fluent in English, Aziz served as foreign minister during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and was a frequent spokesman for Iraq at that time.
On the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted members of the former government, Aziz was ranked No. 43. He was detained by U.S. Special Operations personnel after surrendering Thursday, and "is currently being questioned by coalition forces," said Maj. Randi Steffy, a Central Command spokeswoman.
U.S. officials hope that Aziz, as a longtime insider, may have information about the fate of Saddam, the whereabouts of regime financial resources and the status of any illegal weapons programs.
Rumsfeld said more of the top 55 have been captured in the past few days than have been announced. He gave no details and said that once the identities were verified, they would be made public.
Although U.S. officials hope some Iraqi government ministries will reopen next week, there is no firm timetable for installing a provisional government or scheduling democratic elections.
An initial "all-factions" meeting to discuss the political future was held April 15 in southern Iraq, attended by 80 representatives but boycotted by some groups opposed to the U.S. military presence. A second meeting is expected to be held soon in or near Baghdad.
One of the leading Shiite clerics in Baghdad, Sayyed Ali al-Kathimi al-Waethi, said he and his followers would not agree to meetings with Jay Garner, the retired U.S. general overseeing postwar reconstruction.
Garner and the White House have accused Shiite-led Iran of encouraging anti-American sentiment among Iraq's Shiites. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied this.
"We welcome true democracy and a government run by the people in our neighbor country, but we won't support one specific party," Kharrazi told reporters.
"Only when a U.N. government takes control in Iraq will there be no more suspicions and accusations from other countries," Kharrazi said.
President Bush, in an interview Thursday with NBC's "Nightly News," said the United States has "no military plans" to move against Iran or Syria.
"We certainly hope that Iran will allow Iraq to develop into a stable and peaceful society," Bush said. "We have sent word to the Iranians that that's what we expect."
Bush also said there is some evidence suggesting Saddam is either dead or "at the very minimum was severely wounded."
Friday, Apr 25, 2003
Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Patriot
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