Occupation of Iraq will end in June

Sunday, November 16, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American administrators will hand over sovereignty to a new transitional government by June, the Iraqi Governing Council said Saturday, announcing an accelerated U.S. plan for ending the occupation of Iraq.

The plan would mean the end of the U.S.-led coalition administration in Iraq, but not the end of the American troop presence. The new Iraqi government would negotiate an accord on the status of U.S. forces in the country.

From Washington, the White House welcomed the new plan in a statement, calling it "an important step toward realizing the vision of Iraq as a democratic, pluralistic country at peace with its neighbors."

The new timetable followed talks between the 24-member council and the chief administrator, L. Paul Bremer, who returned Thursday from Washington after talks with President Bush and senior national security advisers.

Faced with escalating violence in Iraq, the Bush administration wants to speed up the handover of power to Iraqis -- dropping its earlier insistence that the Iraqis first draw up a new constitution and hold general elections, a process likely to last at least another year. The Iraqis had been insisting on a faster transfer.

Council member Ahmad Chalabi, appearing at a news conference with other members, said the selection of a transitional government should be completed by May. The government, he said, will be "internationally recognized" and with "full sovereignty."

Council President Jalal Talabani said the transitional administration would be selected after consultations with "all parties" in Iraqi society.

Council members also said the plans called for a permanent constitution to be drafted and an elected administration chosen by the end of 2005.

Talabani said the new government would negotiate an accord with the U.S. military on the role of American troops in the country after the handover.

"As of now, we will begin a dialogue with occupation authorities on the security matters, but when the transitional government is set up all authorities will be transferred to this government," he said.

The new government will be "in charge of security in Iraq, internal security as well as the budget of Iraq and in control of all parts of Iraq. Then no other powers will have authority concerning internal security."

Sunni Muslim council member Adnan Pachachi said the U.S.-appointed Governing Council will notify the U.N. Security Council of the timetable for creating the new institutions. The United Nations had set a deadline of Dec. 15.

Death toll influence

Asked whether the Americans wanted to hand sovereignty because of rising death tolls, Pachachi said: "I think you should address this question to the special representative of the U.S. government." Pachachi added that America was "responding to our desire" for political power.

Mahmoud Othman, one of five Kurds on the council, warned that implementing the timetable could prove difficult because of the security situation and acute unemployment, estimated between 60 and 70 percent.

"In my opinion things are going well, but if Iraq continues to lack security and the unemployment issue is not solved, then the implementation of the timetable won't be easy," Othman said. "Agreeing on paper is one thing and the implementation is another thing."

The most difficult part of the plan may be the selection of the provisional assembly.

Chalabi, a moderate Shiite with close Pentagon links, said coordinating committees will be set up in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. The committees will choose nominees for the assembly. The nominees will in turn select assembly members from among themselves.

"This is a process which is as close as we can get to an elected body," said Chalabi. Bremer's coalition authority will not interfere in the selection process, he added.

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