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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 13:31 GMT
Rush to Iraq-isation

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The sudden summoning to Washington of the American administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer indicates that moves are afoot to speed up the transfer of power to Iraqis.

President Bush meets Iraqi administrator Paul Bremer
New options for Bremer and Bush
The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged the policy in a BBC interview: "It could well be that we hand over power to the Iraqis more quickly that planned."

A senior official in Washington said much the same thing: "There is a need to put some energy into the political transition."

The policy switch has been prompted by the rapid deterioration of the security situation and by the failure of the US-appointed Iraqi governing council to agree on a way of drawing up a constitution.

That failure has led to an impasse which President Bush needs to break.

Devastating blow in Nasiriya

The attack on the Italian headquarters in Nasiriya is another devastating blow.

It has extended the area of major conflict far beyond the usual "Sunni" or "Ba'athist" triangle around Baghdad.

The constitutional position, based on the assumption that there would be a rapid return to security, is now collapsing in the same way that that security itself has collapsed.

It could well be that we hand over power to the Iraqis more quickly than planned
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
There is considerable frustration in Washington with the governing council. Mr Bremer's position must also be under question, though not it seems, under threat.

Under the terms of Security Council resolution 1511, the Governing Council has been "invited" to draw up, by 15 December, a timetable for the drafting of a new constitution and "for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution."

That is now seen as too leisurely a process, stretching well into 2004 or even beyond.

Provisional government possible

One idea therefore is to turn the arrangement the other way round by appointing a provisional government, as happened in Afghanistan, and only then working towards a constitution and elections.

There could also be elections of a more limited and immediate kind (within a few months) to a constitutional assembly, something favoured by the majority Shias but not all other groups.

This procedure would more clearly identify Iraqi sovereignty with an Iraqi government. The current so-called governing council has no real powers of political decision.

when the Americans want to find solutions for their problems, they do it in any way which suits them
Governing council member Mahmoud Othman
The current President of the governing council, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, said that a provisional government should be set up.

However, another Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said he didn't see "an alternative to this council at least for the time being."

Change hinted at

Mr Straw hinted at a change in his interview: "Up to now the view has been, you make the agent of (constitutional) process the governing council. There have been suggestions not just from the United States and ourselves but from our other partners that there may be other ways of achieving that," he said.

The governing council itself has hit back at Washington with Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd, saying: "This is supposed to be a partnership based on equality. But when the Americans want to find solutions for their problems, they do it in any way which suits them."

Security issues as well

Apart from the constitutional issues, there are also security ones. Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army as one of his first acts and a new one, much smaller, is being trained only slowly.

There have been calls for this process to be speeded up, even for elements of the old army to be recalled and then sent into action against the resistance.

In the meantime, the US army is prepared to undertake more vigorous operations itself.

The US commander in Iraq Lieutenant General Richard Sanchez said on Tuesday that his forces would "get pretty tough."


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