by Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst
One of the central planks of the Bush administration's plan for post-war Iraq has been abandoned, according to reports from Baghdad and Washington.
It is still unclear when the US will hand over power in Iraq
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to report this week on the feasibility of holding early elections, but the US blueprint for complex regional caucuses may have already fallen by the wayside.
Time and again, the Americans have had to change course in Iraq under the pressure of events.
Now it looks as if they have quietly scrapped a crucial element of the plan they announced in the middle of November.
Under the plan, they proposed to hand over power by 1 July to a provisional Iraqi government selected through a series of caucuses.
But the caucus idea came under fire from the country's senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, who insisted on early elections.
The Americans turned to Kofi Annan for help, and he sent a UN mission to Iraq led by the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.
It is widely expected Mr Brahimi will recommend that elections should be held at the end of 2004 or early in 2005 - that is later than the ayatollah wants, but sooner than the Americans were proposing.
But if one important element of the American plan is likely to be dropped, the chief US administrator Paul Bremer is insisting the 1 July deadline should remain sacrosanct - even though there are apparently some senior figures in Washington who favour a delay.
The big question remains: Which Iraqis will form the interim government that takes over on that date?
Some members of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council favour doubling their number and playing that role themselves.
Others say the new government should be chosen by a big national conference - like the "loya jirga", or grand assembly, which Mr Brahimi helped organise in Afghanistan.
"Iraqis need new faces," one member of the Council told the BBC, and a national conference was the best way to bring that about.