- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, arrived in Washington yesterday for urgent discussions at the White House on speeding up the creation of a new Iraqi-run government in Baghdad.

One proposal is to accelerate the constitution-writing process by moving first to an interim constitution that could be produced in weeks, as it was in Afghanistan, said a senior administration official. Another proposal is for a firm timeline that would lead to local and national elections.

The administration in recent weeks has come to the conclusion that its appointed Governing Council of Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis is moving too slowly in creating a constitution and setting up government ministries. Officials said accelerating Iraq’s sovereignty, in the end, will go a long way toward pacifying the country and ending deadly attacks on American troops.

Mr. Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, canceled his meeting in Baghdad yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller and headed to Washington, where he met briefly with White House officials.

He has held a series of meetings with the Iraqi council to push them along. He is to visit the White House over several days to report on his progress and is expected to meet with President Bush.

“Bremer is trying to get some urgency behind this,” said an administration official. “He is looking at every effort to get the Governing Council to do things. … He’s trying to get to Iraqi sovereignty.”

The official said Mr. Bremer is held in high regard by the president and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and is not going to be fired.

This official said the Iraqi Governing Council has taken a slow “stately pace” to creating a constitution. “In all fairness, they have never done something like this before,” the official said. He said there are no plans to disband the 4-month-old council.

The administration belief is that an Iraqi face on local and national government will go a long way toward winning hearts and minds, and reducing daily attacks on American troops. The drive became more urgent this month after more than 30 U.S. troops were killed in attacks by Saddam Hussein’s followers, primarily in the Sunni Triangle west and north of Baghdad.

“It’s not just the security piece that needs to come along,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, said during a Veterans Day appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. “What also needs to come along is the governance piece, to give Iraqis a sense that, hey, they’re in charge of their country, to give them some responsibility for how that turns out, and also the economic piece, the infrastructure piece and how we communicate what’s going on to the Iraqi people and to the region.”

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad yesterday that he is working to turn security chores over to Iraqis at the local level.

“At the time that those structures in those cities and in those regions have the capacities and have the equipment and have the right numbers, we will hand that over,” said Gen. Sanchez, the top coalition commander in Iraq.

Gen. Sanchez said most of the resistance comes from Saddam loyalists, not foreign fighters, who number no more than “a couple of hundred.”

He said the foreign fighters enter Iraq through two routes from Syria and through a “rat line” at the northeastern border with Iran.

There are 5,000 resistance fighters in custody, including about 20 who may turn out to be members of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s terror network, the three-star general said.

“The challenges we’re having right now is in making sure that we’ve got the immigration capabilities built up in the border police of the country to be able to identify those individuals that are coming in and out with false documentation,” said Gen. Sanchez.

Even as Americans kill and arrest more fighters, attacks are mounting. Gen. Sanchez said his troops are up to 30 “engagements” daily. He said the enemy is turning more and more to standoff attacks, such as mortars, rockets and remote-controlled improvised explosive devices.

“There’s been a significant increase in our capabilities over the last 30 to 60 days, and we’re beginning to see some very focused intel-driven operations,” said the general, “with successes occurring across the country. So I’m getting a lot more comfortable with it.”

Gen. John Abizaid, who as U.S. Central Command chief is overall regional commander, took the extraordinary step over the weekend of going into the Sunni Triangle to personally tell tribal leaders that unless the attacks stop, new force will be used.

“The most important message is that we’re going to get pretty tough,” Gen. Sanchez said. “And that’s what’s necessary to defeat this enemy.”

As Mr. Bremer pushes the council toward self-rule, Gen. Sanchez is creating more Iraqi units to take over the job of combating Saddam’s allies. There are 131,000 Iraqis in various security jobs, compared with 128,000 American troops.

Gen. Abizaid no longer talks of a “guerrilla war,” a term Mr. Rumsfeld dislikes because he said it makes the enemy sound like an organized band of freedom fighters.

“We’re in a low-intensity war that needs to be won,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on CBS. “And we intend to win it.”

Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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