Iraqis form group to challenge American occupation
* Seek urgent meeting with UN envoy
* Brahimi says Governing Council should concentrate on elections
* 7th ministry handed back to Iraqis by US-led coalition
BAGHDAD: A pan-religious group was formed on Saturday to oppose the occupation of Iraq and immediately called for a meeting with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in a direct challenge to the country’s US-appointed leadership.
Some 500 Iraqis met in Baghdad to set up a rival political force free of US influence to push for a handover of sovereignty under the auspices of the United Nations. The United Iraqi Scholars Group — which appointed a 16-strong leadership panel — has vowed to boycott any political group set up by the United States and called for a stronger army than the small force envisioned by the US-led coalition.n.
After a five-hour conference, the group said its agenda was based on “legitimate resistance to end the occupation” and keeping Iraq united. The group of moderate Shia and Sunni Muslims as well as Kurds also demanded the US-appointed Governing Council be sidelined.
Sheikh Jawad al-Khalisi, a senior Shiite cleric who will head the group, said it wanted the handover of power to Iraqis on June 30 “done under the umbrella of the United Nations and not the CPA”, the US-led authority in Iraq since last March’s invasion.
The demands came as UN special envoy Brahimi struck a conciliatory note with the Governing Council during a meeting in Baghdad, saying he wanted to work with them ahead of the June 30 shift of power.
The council’s Shia members in particular object to the UN’s direct involvement in planning the country’s next government, and Brahimi’s belief that a post-June 30 interim government should be comprised of technocrats.
Brahimi has said Governing Council members should concentrate on fighting for power in elections scheduled for January next year. “In previous talks we told Mr Brahimi about our desire to politically take part in the transfer of power but on one condition, that it should not be done under the shadow of the occupation,” said Khalisi.
Meanwhile, the US-led coalition handed control of the Iraqi displacement and migration ministry to its interim minister Saturday in the seventh such handover as the clock ticks down to a June 30 deadline for the return of sovereignty.
US ambassador Richard Jones congratulated the ministry on its achievements, highlighting its work in easing the conditions of 800,000 displaced persons in northern Iraq and between 100,000 and 300,000 in southern Iraq. “This is a ministry very busy in addressing the needs of the Iraqi people,” said Jones, the coalition’s deputy civil administrator. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens in this country.
“I have had the honour of meeting some of these people and I can assure you they live in some very wretched conditions,” he said standing alongside interim minister Mohammed Jassim Khudayir al-Otbee. —Agencies