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Postwar Leadership in Iraq Unsettled

(Washington, DC--August 18, 2003) Post-war Iraq enjoys a wealth of potential leaders who represent multiple bases of power, both Islamist and secular, within the Iraqi population. According to RFE/RL analyst Kathleen Ridolfo, the challenge for the U.S.-led coalition will be to limit the scope of activity of those leaders wishing to push the country into chaos while building the legitimacy of the newly-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Ridolfo, who spoke at a recent briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office, suggested that the leaders to watch are Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi and militant anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Chalabi and 24 other Iraqi leaders, reflecting the ethnic and religious diversity of Iraq, were appointed by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to the Governing Council, which is dominated by diaspora representatives from nearly all of the groups that opposed strongman Saddam Hussein before the outbreak of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to Ridolfo, the only major diaspora group not to join the Governing Council is the "Constitutional Monarchy Movement" of Sharif Ali bin Al-Husayn, a cousin of Iraq's last king, Faysal II who has distanced himself from the coalition since returning to Iraq in June.

Ridolfo identified seven armed groups vying for power in Iraq, ranging from Badr Brigades of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the trained Kurdish peshmerga fighters that fought alongside U.S. forces and the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization and Ansar Al-Islam. Potentially the most dangerous of these groups is the "Imam al-Mahdi Army" of Muqtada al-Sadr. According to Ridolfo, the Army claims to have up to one million self-armed volunteer members. Named after an ancient Shi'ite leader that many Shia believe will reappear to save the world when corruption and oppression dominates, Ridolfo asserted that al-Sadr may intend to capitalize on this belief and in time use the army to fight the perceived new oppressors of Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition force.

At least two dozen militant groups, according to Ridolfo, have taken credit for attacks on coalition forces in Iraq since April. Ridolfo looked at 15 of these groups, and found that only four claimed links to the deposed Hussein regime. Five of the groups, Ridolfo said, were of a secular nature but not loyal to Hussein, while six others claimed Islamist origins; of the Islamist groups, two said they were linked to the Al Qaeda network.

In spite of the many groups claiming credit for the attacks, Ridolfo said that "Iraqis overwhelmingly do support the Governing Council... and are glad that they were liberated." Ridolfo cited anti-US newspapers in Iraq that printed responses by Iraqis to questions on whether coalition forces should leave Iraq -- "we need them here, we need the stability, we need them to help us restart our infrastructure and get Iraq moving forward."

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