The top American administrator for Iraq says the United States will stick with
a plan for returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people by July 1, despite opposition
from Iraq's top Shiite cleric. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani opposes the plan
because it does not include direct elections for what will be Iraq's first sovereign
government of the post-Saddam Hussein era. The Bush administration is now hoping
to enlist the help of the United Nations to win the support of Iraq's majority
Ambassador Paul Bremer was called back to Washington while the Bush administration
again reviews its plan for the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraqi government,
set to happen by July 1.
But standing in the way is opposition from Iraq's top Shiite leader, Ali
al-Sistani, who is demanding direct elections rather than regional caucuses,
an indirect form of voting favored by the Bush administration and the U.S.-installed
Iraqi Governing Council. At this point, U.S. officials say Iraq is not prepared
for direct elections since decades of rule by Saddam Hussein have left the
country with no accurate census or voter registrations lists.
After a meeting with President Bush and top officials at the White House
Friday, Ambassador Bremer told reporters much still remains to be worked out
in order to meet the July 1 deadline.
"We need to try to find a way to go forward in a transparent and representative
fashion," he said. "We have doubts, as does the secretary-general, that elections
can in fact be called in the timeframe of the return of Iraqi sovereignty on
He and members of the Iraqi Governing Council head to New York Monday for
a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, hoping to enlist the United
Nations, which opposed the war in Iraq, in working out the details for what
will be the country's first elections of the post-Saddam era.
"The U.N. has a lot of expertise in organizing elections, electoral commissions,
electoral laws, has a great deal of expertise it can bring to bear in the process
of writing a constitution. All of these things I'm sure are going to be discussed
during the course of the day Monday," he said.
Adnan Pachachi is chairman of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council. "We
all believe that the best way to elect legislative bodies is through direct
and general elections if we can be sure there is enough time to conduct these
elections, and they should be well prepared for, so that the elections would
really reflect truly the desires of the Iraqi people," he said.
As part of the overall effort to reach out to the international community,
U.S. officials are also suggesting they may be ready to drop their opposition
to allowing countries which opposed the war, including France, Russia and Germany,
to begin bidding on billions of dollars worth of U.S. financed reconstruction
France in particular now seems ready to improve relations with the United
States that have remained chilled for the past year.