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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

07 March 2004

Iraqi Leaders May Sign New Constitution March 8, Bremer Says

Administrator says coalition stands by plan to transfer power June 30

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent

Iraqi political leaders moving the nation toward self-government could well sign off on an interim constitution on March 8, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq says.

Appearing on a pair of television interview shows March 7, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Administrator L. Paul Bremer said he believes Iraqi leaders are on their way toward resolving last-minute concerns by some Governing Council members that held up a planned signing ceremony March 5.

"The indications we're getting...are that the Governing Council is going to get together tomorrow and sign it," Bremer said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

"I hope that'll happen. It'll be a really great day for Iraq and all Iraqis," Bremer said.

In similar comments on "Fox News Sunday," he reported that the president of the Governing Council had said "they do intend to sign it tomorrow."

The earlier planned signing ceremony was called off when five Shiite members of the Governing Council withdrew their support of the document -- endorsed by the entire council earlier in the week -- over provisions they construed as giving too much power to minority Kurds.

On the Fox interview, Bremer said it was "a little early to know" whether the Shiites now would agree to the constitution as written or would seek changes.

Bremer called debate over the prospective constitution's provisions "a great example of a democracy at work -- a young, fledgling democracy, not unlike ours a couple of hundred years ago."

"The fundamental issue here," Bremer said, "is the protection of minority rights, whether they're Kurds or Shi'a or Sunnis or somebody who's just on the wrong end of a vote for a while. Democracy is not just about elections and it's not just about majority rule; it's also about protecting the minorities."

"They're working it out among themselves, and I hope they'll have it worked out by tomorrow," he said.

In both interviews, the administrator reaffirmed the U.S.-led coalition's intention to transfer governing authority to Iraqis on June 30.

"The coalition and the Governing Council have made a pledge to the Iraqi people to pass authority and sovereignty back to the Iraqis on June 30," he said on CNN, adding, "The Iraqi people want that authority back, as we have promised to give it to them, and that's our intention."

Bremer told Fox that an interim government would be established "in consultation with the Iraqi people, with the Governing Council, and with the United Nations" well before the target date "so that on June 30th, we have a government to hand over to."

Asked who was likely to emerge as Iraq's new leader, Bremer said it was "too early to say who the personalities will be."

"I think what we're going to see here over the next year and a half is a blossoming of political life. Lots of people are starting to surface. We've got a very able cabinet. We've got people in the Governing Council. We've got a group of governors..., I think mayors will come to the fore, we'll see law professors and women" playing a role, he said.

Bremer rejected suggestions that the June 30 date is being picked with an eye on U.S. domestic politics, with the U.S. presidential election due only about four months later.

" I just don't think that's based on the realities here," he said. "We didn't defeat a nation; we defeated a regime, a terrible regime. So most Iraqis, I think quite understandably, resent being we have all along felt it was important to get the occupation ended in a timely fashion. We made a commitment in November to do that by next June, and that's what we'll do....The reality is the Iraqi people want the sovereignty back."

Commenting in his CNN interview on the previous week's terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Karbala, Bremer said that while "we don't know for certainly looks like it was the al Qaeda-linked terrorist named Zarqawi" who was responsible. Bush administration officials have said that the attacks had the "hallmarks" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al Qaeda associate.

Asked whether Zarqawi's presumed motive of fomenting sectarian war in Iraq was working, Bremer replied, "No, I don't think so."

"We are responsible for law and order here. And we are beefing up security at the borders. We're going to take every step we can to do better to keep these people out of the country," he said.

Addressing the same issue on Fox, he said, "What is happening here is we have international trained terrorists conducting attacks against Iraqis. It's quite different from the insurgents who are attacking coalition forces, and these internationally trained professional killers are coming in here from outside the country."

"So the first thing we have to do, and what we are working very hard on with the Iraqis now, is getting better control over Iraq's borders," he said.

On the issue of expected war crime trials of Saddam Hussein and other leaders of the former Iraqi dictatorship, Bremer said he expects it to be "some months" before prosecutions begin.

"They (the Iraqis) first have to set up the court itself, get its rules of procedure established, get the judges, get the investigators, collect the evidence... probably towards the end of the summer, early fall is a guess at this point," he said.

Bremer said a U.S. team headed for Baghdad "to help the Iraqis pull together the evidence" is part of an effort to "provide them every assistance we can to be sure these trials go off as soon as they are ready to present them."

As in the case of plans to return sovereignty to Iraq by June 30, he rejected suggestions that domestic U.S. politics played a role in the timing of trials.

"There's a certain distortion... where we begin to think that everything that happens everywhere in the world is in fact dedicated to our elections," Bremer said. "As a matter of fact, the Iraqi have their own timetable here. They want to try these guys as soon as possible, and that's what will direct the timing, not something about our elections."

Asked whether Saddam Hussein has been cooperating with interrogators, Bremer replied, "He's not been very helpful, no."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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