- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq will transfer sovereignty to a new transitional government by the end of June, a move President Bush said yesterday “is an important step toward realizing the vision of Iraq as a democratic, pluralistic country at peace with its neighbors.”

The move, however, does not mean there is a June date set for the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday from Japan.

Under a timetable presented by the U.S.-anointed Iraqi Governing Council to the senior U.S. administrator in Iraq — who brought the plan to Washington last week for a series of hastily called meetings with the president and his national security team — a transitional administration will be named by the end of May, most likely by delegates chosen in town meetings across Iraq.

After the June transfer of power to the new government, the 24-member council will be dissolved. U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at the pleasure of the new government and will stay until a stable democracy is established, council officials in Baghdad said.

In the short term, the existing council will, by February, lay out a set of basic laws that will remain operative until a permanent constitution is established. That long-term constitution would be drafted by the end of 2005, and then free elections would be held according to the charter’s terms.

“The plan outlined by the Governing Council meets a key mutual objective of the Coalition and the Iraqi people: the restoration of sovereignty to a body chosen by the citizens of Iraq and based in a legal framework,” Mr. Bush said. “It also commits Iraq to a process for drafting a permanent, democratic constitution that protects the rights of all citizens.”

Council member Ahmad Chalabi, appearing at a Baghdad news conference with other members, said the selection of a transitional government should be completed by the end of 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.

Under one plan, delegates chosen in town meetings across the country would select members of the transitional government. A senior White House official, who yesterday spoke to reporters by telephone, said the next job for L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, is to consult with the council about how to conduct the town hall meetings to select a provisional government.

Mr. Bremer “didn’t go back with a blueprint from Washington for how these town halls are going to work,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is going to be the hard work.”

On the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, Mr. Talabani said the new government would negotiate an accord with the United States on the role of American troops 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,” Mr. Talabani said. “Then no other powers will have authority concerning internal security.”

In an interview yesterday en route to a U.S. Air Force base in southern Japan, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about the plan to restore Iraq’s sovereignty by June, according to the Associated Press.

“The timetable or the way ahead that the [Iraqi] Governing Council has been describing relates to the governance aspects of the country and not to the security aspects,” he said. “That’s on a separate track.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States continues to plan to rotate a new contingent of troops into Iraq next year, with no final pullout date set yet. Accelerating the political process will not affect military planning, he told the AP.

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

The announcement in Baghdad came on a day when the 400th U.S. soldier died in Iraq since major combat started March 20, and 17 soldiers were killed in the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

While Mr. Bush said in September that he supported a transfer of power only after Iraq drafted a constitution and held free elections, U.S. officials this month realized that the Iraqi Governing Council was deadlocked over the establishment of a constitution and could not proceed under the president’s timetable.

Within the past 10 days, the senior administration official said, the White House came to the “realization that a permanent constitution was not within reach in a time frame that was consistent with a desire to get the Iraqis more authority to get them into self-government.”

“And so discussions began more in earnest about how to move forward given that circumstance,” the official said.

Mr. Bremer then held discussions with members of the council and came to Washington for urgent meetings “with some ideas, his ideas, the Governing Council’s ideas,” the official said. At the White House, Mr. Bremer got input from the president and his national security team and upon his return to Baghdad, “really rather quickly then they agreed on a path and a way ahead.”

Said Mr. Bush yesterday: “The United States stands ready to help the Governing Council and all Iraqis translate this new timeline into political reality. The American people are committed to the future of an Iraq that is democratic and prosperous.”

The president on Friday vowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq until the nation is “free and peaceful,” a stance the senior administration official said will be adhered to as Iraqis assume more power.

“This is not an issue of when American forces leave, this is an issue of how Iraqis can get more involved in their own security, how they become more involved in their own political future, and we will be there to help them in every way that we can,” the official said.

Despite the fact that the U.S. administration will lose a certain amount of control over the new Iraqi government’s drafting of a permanent constitution, the official said signs already point to a “democratic future.”

“We believe that certain universal values are going to support and undergird that process. All of the evidence is that the Iraqis, the Governing Council, the ministers, Iraqis with whom you talk have very strong inclinations toward the protection of human rights, toward the protection of certain universal values,” the official said.

“There has even been some polling in Iraq that shows that things like freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly are values that the Iraqis already hold, and it’s really pretty remarkable given the decades of repression.”

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