Saturday, September 27, 2003

NEW YORK — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday suggested a one-year time frame for handing power to the Iraqi people — six months to write a constitution and another six months to organize and hold new elections.

Mr. Powell emphasized that the time frame was a goal and not a deadline.

“Six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of this constitution and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people,” Mr. Powell told reporters yesterday at the United Nations. He was attending the annual U.N. general debate.

On the next step — holding national elections — Mr. Powell said: “After the constitution, some people say it will be another six months for elections, but we really can’t be precise about it.”

Mr. Powell met with ministers from the 14 other U.N. Security Council nations, and dozens of others concerned about the instability in Iraq — including two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in a month. He then returned to Washington late yesterday to work on a revised resolution.

“Colin Powell told us today … that he is going back to Washington with a very, very broad set of suggestions, proposals, that he’s going to be very serious about that, and then next week [the] American government … will present a new version of the draft of the resolution,” Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said after Mr. Powell met his European Union counterparts.

While organizing an election is not likely to be particularly difficult, writing a constitution is expected to be a huge task, with some prominent Iraqis saying that it could take months to simply set up a convention.

Given Iraq’s complex demographics, a group drafting a new constitution would, at some point, require the consent of hundreds of delegates representing Iraq’s ethnic, religious, tribal and geographic blocs.

A timetable to democratic rule “will depend largely on how long it will take us to draft a constitution,” said Adnan Pachachi, a member of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council. “My own personal opinion is that if we can have a constitutional conference in place some time next month, then I think we can have a constitution ready by May, perhaps.

“But of course, this is all conjecture,” Mr. Pachachi told reporters at the United Nations this week.

Some nations, mainly France, are pushing for a quick handover of authority to the Iraqis, perhaps before the end of the year.

The United States, however, is reluctant to transfer power to the Governing Council, an unelected body that was selected by the U.S.-led coalition.

The U.N. Security Council is currently weighing a resolution that would authorize a U.N.-backed peacekeeping force, under U.S. command. It is also expected to spell out a timetable and mechanism for restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.

Britain — Washington’s main partner in the war and closest European ally — has suggested holding elections as early as next summer.

“We welcome Colin Powell’s statement, and we are committed to elections during the course of next year, and hope this fits in with that,” a British Foreign Office spokesman in London told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. “We are looking forward to continuing work on the resolution next week.”

Germany said Mr. Powell’s idea would have to flow into negotiations on the new resolution, but refused to categorize it in any way.

Foreign Ministry spokes-man Walter Lindner told the AP that Germany’s stand, expressed repeatedly by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, remains that it wants a return to Iraqi sovereignty as soon as possible, but with a “realistic” timeline. Germany has refrained from suggesting a specific timeline.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was attending another meeting at U.N. headquarters, declined to comment on Mr. Powell’s suggested timetable.

Calls for greater U.N. involvement came amid a continuing reduction of U.N. staff, announced Thursday after a second bombing at the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad.

The evacuation order came after a bombing Monday that killed an Iraqi policeman and wounded 19 others.

The first bombing, on Aug. 19, killed 23 persons at the headquarters.

At that time, there were about 300 international staff in Baghdad and another 300 elsewhere in Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered the number reduced to 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north.

The U.N.’s humanitarian work should be able to continue, with limited international supervision and using the 4,233 Iraqis working for the United Nations, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

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