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Talks on new Iraqi government start

April 15, 2003 10:29 IST

The United States on Tuesday launched talks with Iraqis on how the country should be ruled now that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown.

Ahmad Chalabi, the high-profile leader favoured by the Pentagon, has said he will not attend the meeting in the southern city of Nasiriya, but will send a representative. And Iraq's main Shi'ite Muslim opposition group has decided to boycott the meeting.

Mohsen Hakim, spokesman for the Iran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told Reuters from Tehran, "... we can't hope for much from this meeting."

There is division among Iraqi opposition groups, but Brigadier General Tim Cross, the top British official in post-war Iraq, sees one thing uniting all:

"I think they want us to leave as quickly as possible. They want to be responsible for their own country again."

It could be more than six months before an Iraqi government takes office, Cross said. "One has to go through the process of building from the bottom up. That full electoral process may well take longer," he added.

The talks take place against the backdrop of an improving security situation, with the US insisting that looting is subsiding.

The US called back thousands of policemen, who worked for the regime, to help maintain order. But the legacy of those days of chaos includes the loss and destruction of thousands of treasures from the National Museum and Library and the ransacking of many government offices.

Normality appeared to be slowly returning to Baghdad, battered by more than two weeks of air raids followed by four days of near-anarchy. Some stands and food stores opened.

The occasional crackle of gunfire could be heard in the distance, and, with water and power supplies still cut, a few hundred Iraqis protested over the lack of security and public services: "Islamic state! Islamic state! Not American, not American!" dozens of protesters chanted.

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