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Bush changes Iraqi election plan
( 2003-11-14 09:26) (AP)

Under pressure from Baghdad and U.S. allies, the Bush administration is rewriting its political plan for Iraq to speed the transfer of power with elections in the first half of next year and formation of a new government before a constitution is written, officials said Thursday.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said it was necessary to give Iraqis control more quickly because "they are clamoring for it; they are, we believe, ready for it."

US President George W. Bush urged faster transfer of power to Iraqis, a day after the worst attack yet on US-led occupation forces.  [AFP]
Armed with new instructions from U.S. President Bush, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, flew back to Baghdad to seek a consensus with the Iraqi Governing Council about creating an interim government. The White House change of strategy not only accommodates Iraqi demands for power but also gives Bush the prospect of drawing down American troop levels before next year's elections. It also comes in the face of criticism from abroad that Washington was moving too slowly to hand over authority.

"We want the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country," the president said in a brief exchange with reporters in the Oval Office.

For months, the administration has insisted that Iraqi leaders write a constitution and hold elections before power shifts to them from U.S. occupiers. But Rice said Iraqi council members don't want to wait for a new constitution before taking on new responsibilities.

"And so it's the timeline on the permanent constitution that's really extended," she said. Rice said the transfer of more authority to Iraqis "can happen at any time and hopefully will happen well short of a year."

The council faces a Dec. 15 deadline under a United Nations resolution to produce a timetable for writing a constitution and holding elections. Rice said that nothing in the U.N. resolution would constrain a rapid transfer of authority.

On his return to Baghdad, Bremer will consult with the council on the appointment of a special panel to oversee an accelerated transition to Iraqi rule, a senior U.S. official said.

US President George W. Bush shrugged off concerns that massive demonstrations planned by anti-war campaigners could disrupt his state visit to Britain next week.  [AFP/File]
"It is still important that the Iraqi people have a permanent constitution and elections for a permanent government. Nothing has changed," Rice said. Officials said it was undecided what kind of elections would be held, and they could be regional elections or some type of caucuses rather than national elections.

The Iraqi Governing Council has indicated reservations about giving priority to writing a new constitution, preferring instead to assume the powers of a provisional government in the short term.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged this point, saying that existing procedures for writing a constitution "could eat up a great deal of time, more time than we think can be allowed before we start transferring sovereignty back."

Powell, at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said the administration would see if there was a way to work through these concerns or find alternatives that would speed up the process in ways that would be acceptable to the Iraqis.

A senior administration official also pointed to demands by Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, for holding elections before writing a constitution. Bush recognizes that many members of the council do not want to defy the cleric, the official said.

Bush, talking with reporters, said Iraqis want more power. "That's a positive development. That's what we want. We want the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country."

He also expressed resolve to curb the violence in Iraq that has killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

"We're going to prevail," the president said. "We've got a good strategy to deal with these killers."

"The goal of the terrorists ... is to create terror and fear amongst average Iraqis ... create the conditions where people are just so fearful for their lives that they cannot think positively about freedom. That's their goal," he said.

"Our goal, of course, is to continue to work with those Iraqi citizens who understand that freedom is a precious commodity, those who understand that there is a hopeful life possible in a part of the world where a lot of hope has diminished in the past."

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