"We want to present a new image of Iraq, different from that of the old regime," said foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari on Sunday as he announced her appointment.

"In years to come, Iraq will need the support of the United States," Zebari said, underscoring the significance of her appointment to "one of the most important locations for resuming our diplomatic activities."

He said he looked forward to "re-establishing full diplomatic relations with the United-States".

'Mutual respect'

"With this appointment we hope to put an end to the past of conflict and war ... and establish relations characterised by mutual respect," he said.

"Iraqi women were marginalised diplomatically and politically under the old regime. Surely, we are also sending a message here that Iraqi women will be involved in political and diplomatic activities."

Francke, who until recently was the executive director of the Washington-based, pro-democracy Iraq Foundation, welcomed the assignment as one which "has a particular character because Iraq has not been represented in the United States for 13 years".

"In some respects, Afghanistan is a case study in what not to do"

Rend Rahim Francke,
new Iraqi ambassador to Washington

"I want to erase the image of the detestable past. Even when the embassy was open, it was a source of fear and menace for Iraqi expatriates and not respect. My role will be to establish friendly relations with the expatriates," she said.

The new envoy said she felt her new position was an "extension" of her former job at the Iraq Foundation "defending human rights and democracy for the Iraqi people".

"My duty is to reflect the true and accurate picture of the Iraq we are in the process of building ... and to convey with truthfulness and accuracy the aspiration of the Iraqi people to rise to the level of a nation that is modern, that is developed, that can join with confidence the community of civilized nations."

Rights advocate

Francke co-founded the Iraq Foundation in 1991 to promote democracy and human rights in Iraq and serve the 400,000-strong Iraqi community in the United States.

Although a staunch and outspoken opponent of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, she has been cautious about endorsing US President George Bush's plans for Iraq.

Iraq's FM Zebari wants to project a new image of Iraq

"In some respects, Afghanistan is a case study in what not to do," she was quoted as saying in an October article in the respected London-based newsletter Janes.

Francke, who will act as head of the Iraqi interests section in Washington, which is moving from the Algerian to the Bahraini embassy, was born and partially raised in Iraq.

She said on Sunday that her family had to "leave for political reasons."

She was educated in Lebanon, in the United Kingdom and France.

Francke worked as an international banker and university professor before moving to the United States in the early 1980s with her family. She currently lives in the Washington area.