Occupation powers discuss Iraq self-rule

The head of Iraq's interim Governing Council has been meeting US President George Bush to discuss the transition to self-rule in Iraq.

    Pachachi (L) and Bush say Iraq is not yet ready to hold elections

    Adnan Pachachi told reporters after Tuesday's

    White House meeting that Iraqi authorities and their US sponsors were trying to make the transition "more


    transparent and more inclusive".

    He said:

    "We want to have a legislative assembly that will really reflect

    the desires of the Iraqi people and a broad representative base,

    which is very important."

    Later, Pachachi said the interim leadership remained committed

    to maintaining the 30 June deadline for the

    transfer of sovereignty and power to an elected or a chosen Iraqi


    "We are committed to that date and we shall not compromise on

    it," he said after meeting with Secretary of State Colin

    Powell at the State Department.

    Direct elections

    The US-backed power-transfer plan has drawn fire from Iraq's

    pre-eminent Shia leader, Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani,

    who opposes plans to transfer sovereignty to a transitional

    government without direct elections.

    "We want to have a legislative assembly that will really reflect

    the desires of the Iraqi people and a broad representative base,

    which is very important"

    Adnan Pachachi,
    Iraqi Governing Council

    Pachachi conceded that elections would be preferable to the caucus

    system now in place for selecting a transitional legislature.

    But he 

    repeated his belief, shared by the United States, that the likelihood of organising elections this year given current

     conditions on the ground was slim.

    "In principle, we are all in favour of elections," he said. "We

    believe that elections are the normal way to choose a legislature.

    "But because of the shortness of the period available to us and

    because of the necessity of preparing for elections, there have been

    some doubts that elections can be held."

    UN Iraq involvement

    Pachachi said Monday's talks between the United States, the

    council and the United Nations had gone well.

    He said he hoped the

    world body would "very soon" send a team to assess whether elections

    could be held before the 30 June

     power-transfer deadline.

    "The United Nations has a role to play, and we have asked them

    to send a team very soon to Iraq," he said, adding: "I think they

    are going to send it very soon," with an eye on completing a report

    on the matter by late February.

    Powell said the UN team would be looking "to see whether or not

    there are refinements that might assist the Ayat Allah and others in

    accepting that elections aren't timely or appropriate at this


    However, Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who was with

    Pachachi, said Iraqis had "expressed their view" through

    demonstrations in which thousands of Shias

    called for direct elections.

    Shia demonstrations 

    Iraqi Shias want direct elections 
    later this year

    "And we said clearly that we should have elections in Iraq and

    we should keep to the timetable of the transfer of sovereignty," he

    said through an interpreter.

    "This is why we demand the United Nations to send a technical

    mission to decide the feasibility of the election... "

    If a UN team finds it impossible to hold quick elections, the

    Americans are counting on al-Sistani, who is considered a political

    moderate, to back off from his threats of civil disobedience.

    Britain backs elections

    Britain, which provides the second largest number of troops to the US-led occupation, now backs demands from Iraq's Shia community for direct elections.

    It is pressing Washington to hold a poll before the transfer of sovereignty from the US-led coalition to a transitional government, a British newspaper said on Wednesday.

    British officials say the US is on the verge of bowing to the pressure and that the US occupation administration's top official in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has been persuaded of the need for direct elections as long as they can work on the ground, according to The Guardian.

    "Iraq could become a reasonably functioning democracy, or else it will eventually fall apart," one senior British official was quoted as saying by the left-wing daily.



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