New Iraqi governing council to start work

Sunday, July 13, 2003

From wire reports

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- When the first Iraqi leadership since the fall of Saddam Hussein is named today, it will not be midwifed or anointed by the U.S.-led occupation authority -- at least not in public.

The 22 men and three women, who are meant to be a rough mosaic representing the country's major ethnic and sectarian communities, are to step forward as self-appointed policy-makers for their country as it embarks on a process that is hoped to lead to an interim administration, a constitutional convention, elections and finally a permanent independent and democratic government.

The chief U.S. authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, and his staff, who were involved in nine weeks of intensive consultations to bring about the new governing council, are to take a back seat in today's proceedings, leaving it to the Iraqis to introduce themselves to their compatriots and the world media and to spell out their goals and intentions. Last-minute details of the council -- which will work in partnership with the U.S.-led occupation authority -- were hammered out Saturday in an 8 1/2 hour meeting held in Saddam's former Republican Palace.

According to several Iraqi sources, the new council will include 25 people, 13 of whom are from the Shiite Muslim majority in Iraq that was discriminated against and suppressed during 36 years of Baath Party rule. Shiites compose about 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people. Sunni Muslim Arabs, who previously dominated Iraqi politics under Saddam, will receive five seats, the same as ethnic Kurds who have had 12 years of de facto self-government in northern Iraq. The final two seats will go to smaller minority groups -- one Christian and one Turkman -- said Sherwan Dizayee, a member of the international committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Among the 25 are clerics, including Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Hakim, the brother of Ayatollah Baqr Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, as well as traditional tribal leaders.

Adnan Pachachi, the 80-year-old former foreign minister and U.N. envoy of Iraq from a prominent family -- a living link to Iraq's republican past before the 1968 Baath Party takeover of the oil-rich country -- also has agreed to serve.

The council is coming into being three months and three days after U.S. troops triumphantly entered the center of Baghdad, with Saddam -- if some anecdotal reports can be believed -- riding away in a convoy of Mercedes just ahead of them.

It also comes three days before Bremer's mid-July target for the creation of the council, reflecting eagerness on the part of the Americans and the Iraqis to launch the transition to full self-government and give Iraqis a voice in their day-to-day affairs.

At a time of mounting U.S. casualties amid the beginnings of organized guerrilla warfare against the occupying troops, and of discord over rampant crime and the slow rate of restoring basic services, the council is expected to act as a buffer -- deflecting accusations in Iraq that the United States wishes only to occupy the country and worries in the United States that Americans are getting bogged down with no clear exit strategy.

"Saddam let loose 30,000 criminals from prison. How can the Americans alone fight them?" asked Basil Nakeeb, a supporter of Pachachi. "We need Iraqis to handle these people -- people who know them."

In another sign of America's emerging attitude of compromise, the military said Saturday it was sharply cutting back its presence in Fallujah at the request of police and the U.S.-appointed mayor after several attacks in the town by Saddam loyalists.

Police in the city demanded Thursday that American forces withdraw from their station, saying they feared being caught in the cross hairs if insurgents attacked again.

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