As American troops launched a military operation against enemy fighters in Iraq last week, U.S. officials in Baghdad were having nearly as tough a time with some of America's friends. Two months since riding into Baghdad as Iraq's rulers-in-waiting, the anti-Saddam groups that the U.S. funded, trained and armed before the war are griping that they have been pushed aside by an American Administration that has effectively decided to run the country on its own.
Earlier this month the U.S. ripped up previous commitments to allow Iraq's seven former opposition parties a coalition calling itself the "leadership council" to quickly establish an all-Iraqi provisional government. Instead, civilian administrator Paul Bremer announced plans to appoint a 25- to 30-person political council that will answer to him; U.S. officials told Time they hope to name councilors by the end of the month. Bremer modified the plan in response to Iraqi demands that the council be given more clout and independence, but the U.S.'s prewar allies aren't satisfied.
After meeting in Arbil, in northern Iraq, last week, members of the leadership council called Bremer's modified plan "insufficient." Some factions, including the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.), told TIME they may refuse to cooperate with the council. "We wish them the best of luck," says Nabil al-Moussawi, a chief aide to I.N.C. leader Ahmed Chalabi. "But at this point my advice would be that we not be involved." Iraqi political leaders warn that Bremer's plan may embolden America's enemies even more by marginalizing the country's most organized pro-Western forces and fueling suspicions that the U.S. plans to rule Iraq indefinitely.
"If people feel that the U.S. is determined to go its own way, with no Iraqi partner who has a say, they will show less cooperation with the Americans," says Hoyshar Zebari, a senior official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party. "This plays into the hands of the extremists." But U.S. officials say they never intended to hand power over to these former opposition parties, and they privately criticize them for bickering over the makeup of the proposed interim government and failing to build popular support after Saddam's downfall. U.S. officials contend that Bremer's council will represent a broader cross-section of society and help pave the way for democratic elections.