Tuesday, February 17, 2004

We're Open to Ideas Outta Here

The United States remains committed to giving the Iraqi people control getting the hell out of their country by July 1 but is open to ideas from the United Nations about how an interim government is chosen, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday.

Marking time until he hears from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later in the week, Powell said ''we've got an open mind on it.'' He spoke against the backdrop of reports of defections within the U.S.-appointed Governing Council from a plan to choose an Iraqi interim government through caucuses.
The plan approved last November by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III and the Governing Council calls for caucuses to be held in Iraq's 18 provinces. Then 15-member selection committees, chosen by the Council and local councils, would screen participants who would select an interim assembly.

The U.S. occupation would end July 1, and direct elections would not be held in Iraq until next year.

Objecting to the complex, indirect plan, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and other Shiite clerics have demanded direct elections for the assembly while some members of the Governing Council who approved the plan in the first place are said now to want to abandon the caucus approach and have the council assume sovereignty until elections are held.

Powell said he was withholding judgment until he received a report from Lakhdar Brahimi, a U.N. official whom Annan sent to Iraq for an assessment.

If Annan decides that elections are not possible by the July 1 target date for restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, he is expected to recommend other possible options. The final decision will be made by the U.S.-led coalition now running Iraq and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Annan told reporters Tuesday in New York that he hoped his conclusion ''is going to be helpful.''

Powell raised the possibility, meanwhile, that elections might be held at the end of this year.

He said nobody believes full elections possibly could be held before July 1. ''But at some point in the future, whether it's the end of this year or sometime next year remains to be determined,'' he said.

''Whoever we transfer sovereignty to at the end of June would be an interim arrangement of some kind until you get into a full, ratified constitution, elections and a government that flows from those elections at some point in the future,'' Powell said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested, meanwhile, that while the United Nations had a role to play it was an auxiliary one.

''We're looking to hear from the United Nations,'' he said. ''We have always said that we think U.N. views on these matters are important. We think the U.N. does bring to bear a particular U.N. expertise, including Mr. Brahimi's expertise. So we look forward to seeing what he had to say.''

With the U.S. presidential election campaign heating up, the war in Iraq and the postwar American occupation are significant political issues.

U.S. peacekeepers and Iraqi security forces are struggling with Iraqi and foreign fighters. Since President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq last March to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, 540544 U.S. soldiers have died. And, U.N. and U.S. inspectors have not found the storehouses of weapons of mass destruction he said Saddam had hidden.[Nitpicker emphasis]
I could have sworn the Administration intimated that the UN was irrelevant but then I thought Iraq was an imminent threat because they knew Saddam had WMDS - they even knew where they were as I recall -my bad.


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