British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday the planned interim Iraqi government would exercise final control. But hours later, US Secretary of State Colin Powell disagreed, saying US forces would be under US command and do whatever necessary to protect themselves.

The apparent fissures between the allies could complicate their efforts to secure UN Security Council endorsement for a 30 June handover in Iraq, particularly after France, Russia and China signalled they wanted changes to a draft resolution.

"The final political control over foreign troops remains with the Iraqi government. That's what the transfer of sovereignty means," Blair said.

But Powell portrayed a different picture. "Ultimately US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves," he said.

"The final political control over foreign troops remains with the Iraqi government. That's what the transfer of sovereignty means"

Tony Blair,
British prime minister

As the two allies bickered, Iraqis reacted with scepticism to US President George Bush's promises on Monday of a peaceful and independent future.

"Bush is a scorpion. He is a liar. He is sneaky, making all kinds of promise when he just wants to control Iraq," said Ayman Haidar, a policeman manning a Baghdad traffic checkpoint.

Anti-war countries including France, Russia and China said the draft resolution presented to the Security Council needed improvement.

"It's a draft which should be discussed and improved," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said. French President Jacques Chirac called Bush by telephone to say sovereignty had to be real and perceived as such by Iraqis.

Together with Russia and China, France also wants an expiry date set for US-led forces in Iraq, but with a right to renew the deployment if Iraqis agreed.

Guarantees demanded

In Baghdad, the Iraqi Governing Council also called for changes in the draft to guarantee Iraqi control over troops on its soil and of its oil.

'Ultimately US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves"

Colin Powell,
US secretary of state

"We as Iraqis see the necessity of the presence of forces," said Shazi al-Yawar, head of the Governing Council. "But in the period to come we want to have the right to ask that these forces leave."

He also demanded control of revenue from oil sales, which Washington proposes should be subjected to international audit.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced that Ricardo Sanchez, the top US general in Iraq, is being replaced. But it said the change was not prompted by the prisoner abuse scandal.

Sanchez has been replaced amid accusations he did very little to check prisoner abuse.