US occupation administrator, Paul Bremer, who opened the meeting, was there to remind the fledgling council that he will have the final say on all their legislation.

The US-backed body said that among its first priorities was to form an “effective government” and build a “new Iraq”, in a statement read out by council member and returning exile, Mohammed Bahr al-Uloom.

The statement pledged to draw up a constitution and pave the way for a general election.

The first decisions that the council made in its first meeting was to cancel all holidays related to ousted President Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party and to declare 9 April, the day of his downfall, a national holiday.
 

Bahr al-Uloom is one of
13 Shia in the 25-member council

 
The people, of what the council termed as the “new Iraq”, would enjoy “their full rights under a united federal democratic system” that would be “peaceful with its people and its neighbours”, the statement said.

"It will require the participation of all Iraqis from all political and social strands who are willing to help accomplish this historic task,” said the 80-year-old Shia cleric.

 

Bahr al-Uloom is one of 13 Shia in the 25-member council, which also includes five Sunni Muslims, five Kurds, one Christian and one Turkmen.

 

Chalabi condemns resistance

Among those in the council are convicted-fraudster Ahmed Chalabi and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of Sayyed Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, who heads the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for an Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

 

Chalabi, who heads the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Council, praised and thanked the US and British governments for overthrowing the Iraqi regime.

 

Breakdown of US-appointed council

13 Shia
 5 Sunni
 5 Kurds
 1 Turkmen
 1 Christian

He also denounced fighters carrying out military operations against US-led occupation forces, saying they should not be referred to as resistance.

 

Chalabi, who lacks public support in Iraq, claimed that the Iraqi people considered occupation troops as liberators.

 

However some critics say the council is comprised of hand-picked American puppets.

 

The UN special representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, called on the council to revive urgently basic services, the economy and to re-establish law and order.

 

De Mello said the council should also provide jobs for thousands who found themselves unemployed after top US occupation administrator Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi army and security agencies when he took control of Iraq.

 

"Freedom, dignity and security must from now on be taken for

granted by all Iraqis," the UN envoy said.

 

On Saturday night, Bremer said the launch of the governing council would allow Iraqis to play a more central role in running the country.

 

“The formation of the governing council will also mark the start of the process leading to full, free and fair democratic elections in Iraq,” he said.

 

The occupation administration has so far refused to hold elections in the country, saying that the right circumstances are not yet available.