25 May 2004 -- U.S. President George W. Bush has presented a five-step plan for returning national sovereignty to Iraq in June and preparing the country for democratic elections in early 2005.
Bush was speaking yesterday at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He reiterated that the United States remains committed to establishing a democratic Iraq but said violence might increase before that goal is achieved.
"We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support, and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people," Bush said.
The speech came as U.S. opinion polls show Bush -- who is seeking re-election in November -- with the lowest approval rating since he took office, largely because of the situation in Iraq.
Bush made the speech hours after the United States and United Kingdom presented to the UN Security Council the draft of a proposed new resolution on Iraq.
The resolution calls for transfer of Iraqi sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition to an Iraqi provisional government on 30 June. But it proposes to retain authority for the coalition to take what the draft calls "all necessary measures" to maintain security. And it fails to provide a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops.
There has been concern that the presence of the force might prolong an appearance of foreign occupation, but U.S. and U.K. officials have stressed the force would consult closely with interim Iraqi leaders.
The draft resolution says the multinational force will come under review in one year or sooner if the new Iraqi government wants to review its mandate.
The White House announced ahead of Bush's speech yesterday that the United States will demolish Iraq's notorious Abu Ghurayb prison in consultation with the incoming government as a way of symbolizing the country's new start.
The prison near Baghdad was the scene of torture under Saddam Hussein and of a prisoner abuse scandal under the U.S. military.
The White House said in a written statement that the prison will be replaced by a new maximum-security facility funded by the U.S. government.
Police in the Iraqi capital Baghdad meanwhile said today that a car bomb has exploded outside a hotel used by foreigners. A police officer at the scene told AFP that a child was injured by an explosion of a bomb placed under a parked car. Witnesses told Reuters news agency that at least two people were injured.
In another incident reported today, the U.S. military said an American soldier was killed and four soldiers were wounded in a rocket attack on a coalition base northwest of Baghdad yesterday.
And in southern Iraq, witnesses said U.S. forces and fighters loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed today in the holy city of Al-Najaf. There were also reports of overnight fighting in the neighboring city of Kufa.