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Iraqis submit timetable to end US occupation
( 2003-11-25 13:58) (Reuters)

Iraq's interim authority has submitted a timetable for self-rule and asked the U.N. Security Council for a new resolution that would end the U.S.-led occupation in June.

A U.S. soldier aims his rifle at an Iraqi man stopped for a security check following a roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad November 24, 2003. There were no casualties reported.  [Reuters]
Security on the ground in Iraq was intense as troops went on alert for attacks marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after the grisly weekend killings of U.S. soldiers.

In a letter to the Security Council on Monday, Jalal Talabani, president of the Iraqi Governing Council, promised to establish the "principle of civilian control over the Iraqi armed and security forces."

The U.S.-appointed council said it would select a "provisional legislative body" no later than May 31, 2004, which would elect a provisional government by the end of June.

Then "the Coalition Provisional Authority will be dissolved and the occupation...will end," Talabani's letter said.

The future of their country was on the minds of Iraqis as thousands of Muslims gathered at Baghdad's Abu Hanifa mosque, one of Sunni Islam's holiest shrines, to pray and participate in the Eid al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting.

A US Humvee drives past three Iraqi women working near the 'White Horse' Italian base near the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, Monday, Nov. 24, 2003. Some 100 Beduin families live around the Coalition Forces' bases near Nasiriyah.  [AP]
"I don't think of this as Eid. If the Americans left and there was a new government, with law and order, then every day would be Eid," said Abdel Wadoud Doukhi as he left the mosque.

U.S. military helicopters clattered low overhead, keeping watch following several small explosions earlier in the day and after three U.S. soldiers were killed in two attacks on Sunday.

Since Washington declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1, 185 soldiers have died in action. Washington blames the attacks on insurgents loyal to toppled leader Saddam Hussein.

U.S. President Bush met families of some of the fallen soldiers during a visit to a Colorado army base and vowed to answer the attacks with more force.

"We're sending a clear message: Anyone who seeks to harm our soldiers can know that our great soldiers are hunting for them," Bush told troops and families at Fort Carson on Monday.

On Sunday, witnesses said two U.S. soldiers were shot in the northern city of Mosul, before being dragged from their car in broad daylight and beaten and stabbed by an angry crowd.

Another soldier was killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb near the town of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad.

A U.S. soldier searches an Iraqi at a checkpoint in Baghdad Monday, Nov. 24, 2003.  [AP]

The Governing Council's timetable, worked out with U.S. and British officials, had been due on December 15 but arrived three weeks early. It was requested in an October Security Council resolution, which created the multinational force in Iraq.

"...it has become appropriate for the Security Council to adopt a new resolution taking into consideration the new circumstances," Talabani wrote.

The United States and Britain are considering a new resolution that would welcome or endorse the accelerated timetable, which Washington had opposed in October.

But faced with the mounting death toll, the Bush administration switched positions this month and decided to speed up a transfer of power.

A new Iraqi constitution would be drafted by March 15, 2005, and then presented to Iraqis in a referendum, after which a general election for a new government would take place before December 31, 2005, Talabani's letter said.

His letter did not mention continued deployment of U.S. and other foreign troops. But it is assumed that a new provisional government in June will request that they stay.

In a U.S.-backed move, the Governing Council also announced on Monday it was taking legal action against Arabic news channel Al Arabiya, accusing it of inciting violence, and sent police to its Baghdad bureau to shut it down.

Al Arabiya has broadcast several audio tapes purportedly from Saddam, calling on Iraqis to attack and drive out U.S.-led forces. The Dubai-based channel denied the charges and said punishing the media was no solution to violence.

Underscoring the grave security situation, aid group CARE Australia became the latest international non-government organization to pull out its foreign staff from Iraq after a rocket attack on its headquarters on Friday and death threats.

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