- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s new governing council voted yesterday to send a delegation to the United Nations, setting up a potential battle over its right to represent Baghdad on the world stage. An explosion wrecked a car near the council’s meeting site and a U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush.

As the U.S.-backed 25-member council met yesterday, governments in Europe and Asia — even those critical of the American-led war to oust Saddam Hussein — welcomed the body as a first step in returning political power to the Iraqis.

Supporters as well as opponents of the war believe that the formation of an Iraqi administration would make it easier for them to contribute to the reconstruction of the shattered country — seen as crucial to improving ties with Washington.

“I welcome the setting up of the governing council in Iraq … as a first important step toward a genuine and representative Iraqi administration,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said in a statement.

But it was not clear whether the Iraqi delegates would be recognized as their country’s official U.N. representatives if they decide to challenge the credentials of the diplomats sent to New York by Saddam Hussein, who still formally represent Baghdad at the world body.

The governing council said in Baghdad that the delegation would “assert and emphasize the role of the governing council as a legitimate Iraqi body during this transitional period.”

But the United Nations has said that only the representatives of “an internationally recognized government” in Baghdad would be able to take up the Iraqi seat at the world body.

The Iraqi council, which remains subordinate to American administrator L. Paul Bremer, “is not sovereign, [but it] has political power,” a State Department official told The Washington Times. “It’s an interesting question. … It’s a tough call for the U.N. to make.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in Moscow yesterday that the council represents “the first major step toward the transfer of official power … from the coalition forces and into the hands of Iraqis” and is a “model” for addressing the problems of security and reconstruction, the Associated Press reported.

But the council’s subordinate role and the fact that it was selected, not elected, led to criticism at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, where Secretary-General Amr Moussa showed little eagerness to embrace it.

If the council had been elected, Mr. Moussa said in a statement released Sunday night, “it would have gained much power and credibility.” Most Arab leaders, including Saddam, gained power by force or right of birth, not through elections.

The governing body — made up of prominent Iraqis from all walks of political and religious life — also announced yesterday the formation of three committees to outline an order of business for the coming weeks and to work out organizational issues, said a spokesman, Hoshyar Zebari.

The group had planned to select a leader, but Mr. Zebari said that would be done later.

After the meeting broke up, an explosion about a quarter-mile from the compound turned a black, four-wheel-drive vehicle owned by the Tunisian Embassy into a burned-out metal hulk. The site of the blast was a parking lot where journalists leave their cars ahead of news conferences.

Iraqi policeman Qasim Mohammed said he believed an explosive device — most likely a bomb, not a grenade — had been thrown under the car shortly before it exploded. It was not clear who had been targeted in the blast.

In west Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed and six were wounded in an early-morning attack by insurgents who fired rocket-propelled grenades at a military convoy, said military spokesman Spc. Giovanni Llorente.

Witnesses said a vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and another by machine-gun fire. Bloodstains on an armored Humvee vehicle and the crumpled cab of an army truck bore testament to the attack.

Dozens of U.S. troops searched the area as helicopters hovered above. Soldiers inspecting an abandoned house there found a light machine gun that might have been used in the attack.

The death brought to 32 the number of American soldiers killed in hostile action since Mr. Bush declared an end to major fighting May 1. Also yesterday, the military said a Marine in southern Iraq died in a non-hostile incident.

On Sunday, an Iraqi died in what appeared to have been a car-bombing attempt. At least one more Iraqi was killed and five were wounded in a shooting incident involving U.S. troops in Baqouba, 45 miles northeast of the capital. The U.S. military said yesterday that American soldiers opened fire after the car turned off its headlights and tried to run a checkpoint at about 11:20 p.m.

However, the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television network quoted witnesses as saying that the car was filled with a family that was on its way to a hospital. It said one child and an adult were killed in the shooting, and several others were wounded.

Meanwhile, several thousand people — including Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds — attended a ceremony in honor of the possible successor to the long-vacant Iraqi royal throne, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, who greeted well-wishers at his palatial headquarters.

The occasion was the 45th anniversary of Revolution Day, which marks a bloody coup in 1958 when nationalists killed King Faisal II, Iraq’s last monarch, triggering years of political unrest. The day had been celebrated under Saddam as well, but yesterday was the first time monarchists were able to gather in Baghdad to mourn the king’s assassination.

Six Iraqi holidays marked by Saddam’s Ba’ath Party were wiped away in the governing council’s first and highly symbolic act Sunday, but the July 14 holiday predates his rule.

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