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Administration Details Plan for Returning Power to Iraq

Transition government will have limited powers, officials say. U.S. is to seek a U.N. resolution.

April 23, 2004|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials offered Congress on Thursday their most detailed explanation yet of U.S. plans for turning power over to Iraqis after June 30, saying that although the nation's sovereignty will be limited, the transition government will be in charge of most ministries, oil revenues and an international development fund.

The administration will also seek another U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, the officials said, in hopes of winning more international support for the rebuilding effort, though they did not yet know what the resolution might say or when it might be offered.

But three days of administration testimony, including closed-door briefings Thursday from national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, also made it clear that security would remain the responsibility of the United States. The officials reiterated that United Nations plans call for a transitional Iraqi government whose primary purpose would be to prepare for elections next year but which will not have the power to enact laws.

Moreover, the new U.S. Embassy, planned to be the largest in the world, will continue to play a major role in Iraqi affairs.

The administration's presentation did not reassure some of its critics.

"There is no plan," declared Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.). "Not enough troops, and no plan."

Even administration spokesman Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, tacitly acknowledged that time was short for a successful hand-over of sovereignty.

"As much of this that can be accomplished as early as possible is a good thing," he said in testimony Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We do not want to be in a position on July 1 of turning on the light switches" at the embassy for the first time, and the administration does not want "to be running around at midnight on the 30th of June trying to get a Security Council resolution."

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to name the senior officials of the transitional Iraqi government sometime in May, Grossman said.

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Grossman said it was important to the United States that the government that Brahimi was putting together "not be a lawmaking body." The U.S., Grossman said, does not believe "that the period between the 1st of July and the end of December should be a time for making new laws." Administration officials, Grossman said, are "pleased with the sketch that Ambassador Brahimi provided of his proposed way forward, and believe his idea fits in our vision."

He described Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as immersed in the details of the transition, especially the task of putting together an embassy in Baghdad. The mission is expected eventually to have a staff of 1,000 Americans and 700 Iraqis who will continue to reconstruct the country and help prepare for democratic elections.

Already, nearly three dozen diplomatic security officers are on the ground in Iraq, putting together a security plan for protecting the American diplomats. But Grossman acknowledged that there were "difficult questions related to security left to be answered."

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had started the week fretting that it was unclear whether the U.S. or the transitional Iraqi government would be in charge of security after June 30.

On Thursday, after attending the closed-door meeting Rice held with Republican lawmakers, Warner said he was satisfied that the U.S. would still be making security decisions.

"While the large measure of sovereignty is being passed to Iraq," Warner told reporters, "until such time as their internal forces, security forces, are strong enough to take over, the coalition forces will have the responsibility for the security of that nation."

Rice also told Republicans that the crucial task of overseeing the training of Iraqi security forces had been handed to Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq much of last year.

Administration officials have described as "disappointing" the performance of Iraqi security forces during recent clashes with insurgents, when many deserted, refused to fight or joined rebels in attacking U.S. troops. Petraeus will command an intensified effort to bring those Iraqi forces -- expected to become the backbone of the security effort in the country -- up to speed quickly.

"We've got a definite plan in place," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said after the meeting with Rice. "That is the key -- they have Petraeus to increase the level of security by increasing the number of forces that we're training."

Some lawmakers said that despite the briefings, they were still worried about a security situation they fear was spinning out of control.

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