- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

BAGHDAD — Top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer began a 100-day countdown to return of sovereignty to Iraqis yesterday, saying he was establishing several Western-style institutions that are expected to put a moderating influence on the government that takes over June 30.

“One hundred days from now, Iraqis will be sovereign in their own land and responsible for their own future,” Mr. Bremer said in an outdoor speech in the Green Zone, the heavily protected area housing coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Insurgents in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, yesterday ambushed an American patrol. Three civilians were killed and two soldiers wounded in the latest sign that security could remain a problem in Iraq for months to come.

The fighting came a day after attacks on Iraqi police and recruits left a dozen dead.

Mr. Bremer said significant steps had been taken to rebuild the country since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein a year ago. He said he would set up an Iraqi Defense Ministry and a national security Cabinet later this week.

Mr. Bremer said he was in the midst of appointing inspectors general to each of Iraq’s 25 government ministries, while also creating a government auditing board and an anticorruption commission.

Mr. Bremer announced that work was under way to establish a public broadcasting service and an independent panel to regulate it.

Mr. Bremer already has appointed most Iraqi ministers, many of whom are expected to keep their jobs after the handover. He is sorting through the ministers’ choices for deputies.

U.S. troops came under attack in Fallujah a day after assailants killed nine police recruits south of Baghdad. Gunmen killed two policemen in the north.

Yesterday, in the southern province of Babil, a district police chief was fatally shot en route to work. The slayings were the latest to target police and other Iraqis who work with the U.S.-led occupation.

On the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, three civilians — a 3-year-old boy, his grandmother and a male relative — were killed when a mine destroyed their car, according to relatives. Six others were wounded in the blast.

North of Baghdad on Tuesday, a U.S. military vehicle in a convoy fatally struck an Iraqi girl near Balad, and four American soldiers and two Iraqi civilians were injured in a separate accident involving two military vehicles near Tikrit, the U.S. military said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials expect Iraqi militants and foreign fighters to step up attacks in coming weeks in an effort to disrupt the handover process and demonstrate that a fledgling government cannot control Iraq.

“The security issue cannot be overemphasized,” said Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, a Shi’ite Muslim member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

He said a United Nations team would arrive today to look at technical issues surrounding the transfer of sovereignty. A second U.N. delegation, headed by top negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected in about 10 days.

Mr. Bremer, who often says he was tapped to run Iraq on two-weeks’ notice last spring, is clearly glad to be handing over his responsibilities.

“It will be a happy moment for all Iraqis — and an even happier moment for my family,” he told a few dozen Iraqi dignitaries, seated in the shade of rustling date palms.

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