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15 February 2004

United States Firm on Iraq Sovereignty by June 30

Coalition force presence likely for some time, Bremer says

By Bridget Hunter
Washington File Staff Writer

The United States remains committed to a June 30 deadline for return of sovereignty to Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer said on television interviews broadcast February 15.

Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, told both ABC's George Stephanopoulus and CNN's Judy Woodruff that the June 30 date established by President Bush in his State of the Union Address would be met.

In the interviews, Bremer declined to lay out the specific mechanism for restoring sovereignty to Iraq, saying the next steps lie with the United Nations and the report expected in the near future from U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The ambassador noted that many options for creating an independent governing body were available -- direct elections, caucuses, or partial elections -- but declined to endorse any of them.

"We're going to wait and see what he [the U.N. envory] says when he issues his report," Bremer said, adding that he hoped the report would be available in seven to 10 days.

The ambassador said that the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi does not mean the coalition forces are going to depart in the near future. "We're not going to walk away," Bremer said, explaining that Iraq's ongoing security threats would require an international presence "for some time to come."

Bremer said the United States looks forward to having a presence in Iraq as "invited guests" rather than an occupying force.

Helping establish a democratic, secure, peaceful Iraq will be time-consuming, Bremer acknowledged, but said the United States was prepared for a "long commitment."

The ambassador said that, in the wake of the Saddam Hessian regime, Iraq remained "a fragmented society," but observed that, in his opinion, "remarkably little of the sectarian violence" encouraged by extremists seemed to be taking hold.

Bremer characterized the current violence in Iraq as two-dimensional, with one component arising from al Qaeda-related terrorism and the other from members of the deposed regime. While the latter type has targeted mainly coalition forces, the former has been responsible for the majority of Iraqi deaths, Bremer said.

When asked how American popular opinion, particularly the increasing skepticism regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction, affected his current efforts in Iraq, Bremer responded by pointing to a key success: "We freed 25 million people from one of the most vicious tyrannies of the 20th century."