White House weighs Iraq power shift

Thursday, November 13, 2003

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and senior national security advisers grappled with plans Wednesday to accelerate the transfer of power in Baghdad under the pressure of rising casualties and a troubling intelligence report from Iraq.

"We are in a very intense period here," said L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq. The Bush administration is worried about a lack of progress by the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council toward meeting a Dec. 15 U.N. deadline for producing a new constitution and holding elections.

The administration does not intend to abandon the council, officials said, but is exploring new scenarios. One option calls for creating a smaller body within the 24-person council -- perhaps 10 people with expanded roles, or establishing one person as a strong leader of the council, a senior administration official said.

The administration refused to discuss publicly what was under consideration, saying the Iraqi council had to be consulted first.

Bremer was hurriedly called to Washington for talks with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The talks were held as an intelligence report warned that Iraqis are losing faith in U.S.-led occupation forces, a development that is increasing support for the resistance, officials said. Two senior U.S. officials said it describes a troubling picture of the political and security situation in Iraq.

Bremer, standing outside the White House in a drizzling rain to talk with reporters, turned aside criticism of the Iraqi council. "I don't think it's fair to say the IGC is failing," he said. "They face a very difficult situation at this time" but are "more and more effective in their assumption of authorities," he said.

At the State Department, Powell said negative reports about Iraqi sentiment should be balanced against reports that show the Iraqi people "have faith in what's going on. They see the improvement in their lives, and they want us to stay until such time as they are able to reassume full sovereignty over their country."

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