More memos: Brits backed Sunni-led Iraq

June 23, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The British government, in sharp disagreement with the United States' ultimate position, believed that post-invasion Iraq should be run by a Sunni-led government and not one controlled by the majority Shias.

One of the so-called Downing Street documents, secret internal British memos stirring controversy on both sides of the Atlantic, drafted March 8, 2002, recommended two possibilities for a post-Saddam Hussein government -- one run by a benevolent "Sunni military strongman," and the second, which it clearly preferred, for a "representative, broadly democratic government ... Sunni-led but within a federal structure."

The election process dictated by the United States resulted in the Shias, who represent 60 percent of the population, assuming a dominant role in the executive and legislative branches, as well as in drafting a new constitution.

The current insurgency is led by disaffected Sunnis who controlled the government under Hussein while only accounting for 20 percent of the Iraqi population.

Iraq's Arab neighbors have virtually boycotted the new government that resulted from the election process dictated by the United States. Only Egypt announced yesterday at a summit sponsored by the United States and the European Union in Brussels that it would send an ambassador to Baghdad. U.S. officials believe the reason is unease with the Shia leaders.

"What sort of Iraq we want?" the British documents asked rhetorically. The first possibility, it said, involved a "Sunni military strongman" who, in return for aid, would abandon weapons of mass destruction and respect human rights and ethnic minorities. But, the report noted, the arrangement could result in Iraq ending up in the hands of another Sunni dictator.

A second possibility, the paper asserted, could be a "representative, broadly democratic government would be Sunni-led but within a federal structure. The Kurds would be guaranteed autonomy and the Shias access to government. Such a regime would be less likely to develop WMD and threaten its neighbors. However, to survive, it would require the US and others to commit to nation building for many years."

The eight Downing Street documents, obtained by the London Times, are sprinkled with complaints that the Bush administration was rushing toward war with virtually no planning for its aftermath; suggest that the United States had decided on the invasion long before it acknowledged it would do so; and "fixed" weak weapons of mass destruction and terrorism intelligence to generate public and congressional support.

In a March 2002, memo, Britain's then-ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, wrote that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolf.owitz had suggested " something like a functioning democracy" might replace Hussein.

Wolfowitz told reporters this week that he had not read the documents and declined to discuss them. "There will be a time and place to talk about history," he said, "but I really don't believe it's now."
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.