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Iraqis Meet at Historic Site to Discuss Country's Future

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2003 – Up to 100 Iraqi representatives from throughout the country began discussing Iraq's future today, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

The historic meeting took place at the Ziggurat of Ur, "a famous place where perhaps civilization happened," Powell noted during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center. He said the Iraqis have begun a discussion about a democratic future that will be free of tyranny and dictators.

Powell called it "a future that will be in the hands of a government that will be committed to values that the Iraqi people hold dear as human beings who want to live in freedom and who want to live under representative government."

More meetings in the weeks ahead will identify leaders and create an interim authority that will grow into a new government that intends to live peacefully with its neighbors and to use Iraq's wealth to benefit the people, he said." It will become a nation that will no longer pursue terrorism, put people in prison, threaten its neighbors or develop weapons of mass destruction.

"I think it is a moment of hope for not only the people of Iraq," Powell said, but for the people of the region and the people of the world."

As this process of meetings continues, he said, all of Iraq's neighbors will have an opportunity to provide suggestions and input.

"I won't prejudge now who might play a more active or less active role," he said. About five coalition countries were represented at the meeting today, and he expects other coalition countries will have an opportunity to play a role in the development of Iraq's new government.

President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish President Jose Aznar, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, he said, "have all indicated that they believe the U.N. has a role to play as we go forward in the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Iraq."

In the meantime, coalition forces in Iraq are still battling remnants of the Iraqi regime and turning their focus toward such humanitarian aid efforts as putting hospitals back in order.

"A number of our coalition partners planned to bring in field hospitals into Iraq over the next several days to take care of the people of Iraq," Powell said.

The demise of Saddam's regime decreases the weapons of mass destruction threat, but Powell said, "It has always been U.S. policy that we would like to see that whole region free of weapons of mass destruction."

The United States has expressed concerns over Syria's WMD development, as well as Syria's continuing support of terrorist organizations. Powell said U.S. officials also have made the Iranians fully aware of their concerns about some of Iran's policies.

In recent weeks, he said, coalition officials have been concerned about the flow of material across the Syrian border into Iraq as well as the flow of individuals back and forth across the Syrian- Iraq border. "Some of these individuals went from Syria into Iraq to oppose coalition forces," he said.

Coalition officials have also expressed concerns "rather directly and forcefully to the Syrians over the fact that some Iraqi officials who are guilty of crimes, or at least strongly suspected of crimes, may be seeking haven in Syria," Powell added.

"We don't believe Syria should find this in their interest to give refuge, to give haven to these sorts of individuals who should be returned to Iraq to face the justice that will be meted out by the Iraqi people."

Powell stressed that there "is no war plan right now to go attack someone else, either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values. Democratic values have to ultimately come from within a society and within a nation because they believe that's the best way for them to move forward."

"We hope that Syria understands now that there is a new environment in the region with the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein and that Syria will reconsider its policies of past years and understand that there are better choices it can make than the choices it has made in the past," Powell concluded.

Iraq, as a democratic nation, he said, can serve as an example for other nations in the region.

"I hope that people throughout that part of the world will realize the benefits that come when you have a democratic form of government that is responsive to the needs of the people, uses the wealth of the country to benefit the people," he said. "I hope that that will become a more and more attractive political system throughout the region, as it is in many other parts of the world.

"There should be no reason that we should be fearful of democracy in the Middle East or in the Gulf region," he said. "But each nation will have to find its own way."

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