- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s new government declared itself in charge of the country yesterday and immediately began discussing how to stanch the violence that poses the biggest threat to its future.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a combative former adversary of Saddam Hussein with links to defectors from the dictator’s military, told his team of mostly untried technocrats that security was the “number-one priority.”

Meeting in the heavily guarded Green Zone, Mr. Allawi said in a televised Cabinet meeting that the interim government was effectively in charge as of now — a full month before it is scheduled to take over from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself Tuesday to clear the way for the new government to act.

Mr. Allawi said his government will continue to work closely with U.S. forces once the coalition authority hands over sovereignty on June 30, but will press its case at the United Nations on a resolution that will set the powers that Iraq has over foreign troops on its soil.

“Yesterday and today, there have been terrorist attacks. As Iraqis, we want to work with the multinational force and with friends and our brothers in the region to defeat these continued threats to Iraq and the Iraqi people,” Mr. Allawi said.

“We are sure we will prevail ultimately, and we will win.”

As he spoke, U.S. troops were battling Shi’ite militiamen near Najaf. Huge explosions also rocked a U.S. military base outside the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Earlier, another car bomb killed five and wounded more than 35 on a busy Baghdad street.

Two members of the Governing Council, which held its meetings in the same Cabinet room, had been assassinated — the most recent just two weeks ago at an entrance to the Green Zone.

President Bush said Mr. Allawi might face a test from terrorists like al Qaeda’s Abu Musab Zarqawi, who are set on derailing what they see as an American puppet regime.

“Before and after the transition to Iraqi sovereignty, the enemy is likely to be active and brutal,” Mr. Bush said in a speech.

Also in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said a new draft of the U.N. resolution proposed by the United States and Britain to endorse the transition to an independent Iraq would answer criticisms raised by the likes of France and Russia.

But French President Jacques Chirac said of the draft yesterday: “It needs further improvement to affirm and confirm the full sovereignty of the Iraqi government, particularly in the military domain.”

Mr. Allawi, who has made it clear that Iraq needs foreign troops to provide security, said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was in New York to make Iraq’s case to the U.N. Security Council. He said the international force would be “under the control of the United Nations” and commanded by a U.S. general.

“Of course, we asked for full sovereignty. Iraqis insist on handling security by themselves,” said Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

The draft gives the interim government clear control of its police and other security forces and sets a limit of sorts on the stay of the U.S.-led multinational force.

Although it is careful not to stipulate a date, the draft changes a previously open-ended mandate to one that will end once Iraq drafts a new constitution and elects a government under that law — scheduled for late in 2005 or early 2006.

The United Nations envoy in Baghdad, who mediated at Washington’s request in the formation of the government, urged Iraqis to press on with setting up a broad parliamentary-style body to help oversee the new interim administration.

Lakhdar Brahimi said a group of about 60 leading Iraqis would crisscross the country this month to organize a planned national conference in July that would select the new chamber.

“It’s more than a consultative body, but it’s less than a legislative body,” he told a press conference.

The oversight body, to number about 80 members drawn from about 1,000 who will attend a national conference next month, would have the power to overrule the government on a two-thirds vote and to name ministers if any posts fall vacant.

Mr. Brahimi acknowledged that the formation of the government and choice of a president had been “extremely difficult,” but he refused to give details of the sometimes bitter negotiations.

He urged Iraqis to give the new government a chance and said it was the best team possible under the circumstances.

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