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U.S. seeks credible opposition leader

U.S. officials are casting their nets wide to find a credible opposition leader or perhaps a figurehead who might lead Iraq after Saddam Hussein, meeting even with a man who would be king.

During the U.S. and British bombings of Iraq, State Department and Pentagon officials met with Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, the 42-year-old heir to the throne of a modern Iraqi monarchy that ended 40 years ago.

Ali, who leads the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, survived a revolution in 1958 that toppled his cousin, the last king, Faisal II. The king was killed, along with the crown prince, Abdullah. Ali, 2 years old, was taken out of Iraq by his parents, both of whom were also related to the royal families of Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Ali's grandfather, the emir of Mecca, was the uncle of Iraq's first modern king, Faisal I, who had been handed the throne of Iraq by the British in 1921. Britain set about establishing a parliamentary system in Iraq and decided to crown it with a constitutional monarchy.

Ali, who lives in London, commands only a small movement. But he thinks nonetheless that the idea of a constitutional monarchy still has resonance in Iraq.

"The Iraqi monarchy would be a symbol around which all parts of Iraq would be able to rally because we're not based on any single constituency, nor are we a political party," Ali said in an interview. "What we look forward to is establishing democratic institutions that would guarantee that all players in politics would be able to participate as they wish.

"It was the monarchy that achieved independence for Iraq from the League of Nations mandate. Iraq was the first Arab nation to have independence. The legacy of the monarchs compared to the republics that followed _ all of them dictatorships _ have made people much more aware of the positive roles of the monarchy."