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Powell says Iraqis want to take power faster
( 2003-09-23 14:24) (Agencies)

The United States is at odds with its chosen Iraqi politicians over how soon the United States should restore sovereignty to Iraqis, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday.

United States Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses the United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, at U.N. headquarters in New York.  [Reuters]
But the United States does not think the politicians on the Iraq Governing Council are ready to govern and it would have trouble persuading Congress to give the Iraqis some $20 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid, he said in an interview on the eve of high-level diplomacy on the future of the occupied country.

"They would like to move more quickly," Powell told the Charlie Rose Show late on Monday.

"But they have no assets, they do not have enough income coming in, they don't have the institutions of government yet... To think that this can be done in a matter of weeks or a couple of months is very very unrealistic," he added.

"If you do it too soon ... that makes it very hard for us to ask the American Congress for $20 billion to funnel to an authority like that," he said.

State Department officials have previously said that the 25 Iraqis on the council, who were selected by the United States, are in no hurry to take power, disputing the French argument that a quick transfer is essential.

The question of how fast Iraqis should take over is at the center of an international debate over the future of Iraq, which U.S. forces invaded without U.N. approval in March.

France, a permanent member of the Security Council, has pressed for a rapid restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. Most Arab countries have taken a similar position.

President Bush will meet the leaders of France and Germany, which opposed the invasion, during this week's session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He will address the assembly as a whole on Tuesday.

Powell said it would take at least a year to complete the political process which the United States envisions -- writing a new constitution, approving it by referendum, holding elections and setting up an elected government.


Even after that, the United States could stay on in Iraq if the new government agrees, he said.

"There may be a relationship between the coalition members and that government going into the future, just as we have a relationship with South Korea and the European nations, where our presence served some useful purpose," he said.

The United States has had troops in South Korea and Europe for decades under agreements with friendly governments.

"But that's something to be decided in the future. We only stay where we are invited to stay," he added.

The United States, anxious to muster more troops and money for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, has floated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution giving a clear U.N. mandate for the military presence of U.S. and other forces.

But Powell played down the importance of putting a resolution to a vote and said he did not expect the change would persuade many countries to deploy troops in Iraq.

"We're not pressing for the end of the week and there isn't a particular sense of urgency," he said.

The United States had hoped that four countries -- Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey -- might be able to send significant numbers of soldiers, relieving some of the strain on the United States, which has 130,000 troops in Iraq.

But Powell said it would probably be too difficult politically for the Indian government to contribute.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who will meet Bush in New York on Wednesday, said on Monday that it would make him unpopular to send Pakistani forces under present conditions.

But Powell said: "Pakistan, I think, is still something of an open question. We'll have a chance to discuss that with President Musharraf. Bangladesh is another possibility and Turkey is a possibility."

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