- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

BAGHDAD — Iraqi political leaders and the U.S.-led provisional authority are in the final stages of setting up Iraq’s new governing council, the first post-Saddam Hussein body, which could be announced as soon as today, diplomats said yesterday.

In another step forward, the U.S. military said it was turning control of a restive western city over to Iraqi police, the first time coalition forces have agreed to leave security in the hands of local law enforcement in a major population center.

Iraq’s seven main groups that opposed Saddam’s rule and other political leaders met yesterday in Baghdad and were hoping to hold a final organizational meeting in the capital today, said Adel Noory Mohammed, a leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Union.

He said final details, such as how to announce the council, were still being worked out.

Many Iraqi political leaders want the council to announce itself, to give the appearance of independence from the occupying powers. Others want to hold a joint news conference with top U.S. officials to highlight cooperation.

The council will consist of 25 to 30 prominent Iraqis and will have the power to name ministers and select an independent central bank governor. It will be consulted by Iraq’s U.S. leaders on all important issues and is meant to be the forerunner of a larger constitutional assembly that will have about a year to draft a new constitution.

National elections to select a fully sovereign Iraqi government are expected to follow sometime in late 2004 or early 2005.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the timing of an announcement of the council depended on the outcome of the meetings.

“We are in the final stages of getting the governance council together,” he said. “It will take as long as it takes.”

Iraq’s American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, had scheduled a news conference yesterday at which he was expected to announce the makeup of the council, but the meeting was canceled and no reason was given.

The Bush administration promised a constitutional assembly would be set up within weeks in the aftermath of Saddam’s ouster in April, but it revised its plans several times.

The governing council had at first been envisioned as a consultative panel, but Mr. Bremer later acceded to Iraqi demands for real political power.

U.S. backtracking on the issue has fueled a growing perception among Iraqis that the American mission amounts to colonization rather than liberation, and U.S. troops have become the daily targets of a growing insurgency.

“If the Americans do not get this done quickly, they will lose even more legitimacy and popularity in the eyes of the Iraqi people and they will put themselves under enormous pressure,” said Mr. Mohammed of the Kurdistan Islamic Union.

“The new government, if it is a strong government, will have the respect of the Iraqi street, and people will obey it,” he said.

The council is expected to have a Shi’ite majority. Sixty percent of Iraq’s 24 million people are Shi’ite Muslims, but the country has been ruled for decades by minority Sunnis led by Saddam.

Internationally known former exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Council and former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, and Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani are expected to be on the panel. Groups that remained in Iraq during Saddam’s 23-year rule will have a more prominent role, the Western diplomat said.

Women, who make up 55 percent of Iraq’s population after decades of war, and minorities also will be represented.

In another sign of America’s emerging attitude of compromise, the military said yesterday 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 fire if insurgents attacked again. Americans went one step further, turning the entire city of 200,000 over to the Iraqi forces.

Iraqi police were widely deployed on the roads and downtown. Some of them were directing traffic while others protected government buildings.

The military said it would “allow the Fallujah police to patrol the streets themselves instead of jointly with military police.” It said it would keep a quick-reaction team on call in case the police needed help.

People in Fallujah said they were pleased with the American pullout.

“The American decision to withdraw is a good step, and we have the capabilities to protect the city,” policeman Walid Jasim said.

Also yesterday, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is overseeing Iraq’s Interior Ministry, said that U.S. and Iraqi forces had arrested five former members of Saddam’s personal security forces, four of whom were cousins of the former dictator.

Authorities seized pictures that showed the four cousins torturing an unidentified man, Mr. Kerik said.

He also called on former Iraqi police officers dismissed on political grounds in the past 10 years to apply for reinstatement. He said those younger than 45 years old should apply at police stations from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1.

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