Officially established in April 2003 under former US General Jay Garner, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) was the first such authority.

But after a month into its mandate, Washington announced the appointment of former Reagan administration official Paul Bremer to head a new body, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which superseded ORHA’s duties.

In July, after intense demands, the CPA finally set up the interim Iraq Governing Council (IGC), to fast-track the handover of power to an Iraqi government.

Made up of a wide variety of Iraqis representing religious and ethnic groupings, the handpicked IGC has been accorded limited legislative powers and is subject to the veto of the CPA.

The CPA, as the occupying civilian authority detailed in its strategic plan published in October 2003, has been charged with carrying out the tasks of establishing security, basic services, and economic and governance redevelopment.

Paul Bremer has power of veto
over the Governing Council

Technical difficulties

In February this year, Bremer declared that the CPA's goal of ending the US occupation by 30 June 2004 and holding elections would not go ahead as planned "for a year to 15 months due to major technical difficulties".

This announcement came on the heels of a UN fact-finding mission report about the present political situation in Iraq.

Headed by the UN's Iraq envoy al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi, the report insisted the CPA hand over more power to the IGC to allow it to pass legislation that can quickly create "an independent electoral authority" to hold elections and form a new government.

However, Iraqi Shia and Sunni groups recently protested against Bremer's threat to use his veto over the IGC if it proposed any law calling for the introduction of Islamic sharia as the constitutional basis for law in the country.

Following intense debate, the IGC passed, on 8 March 2004, an interim constitution that designated Islam as "the official religion of the state and is to be considered a source of legislation."

The CPA is expected to ratify the interim constitution.