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Iraq: Bremer Says Up To Iraqis How Long U.S. Stays

Baghdad, 15 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said today it is up to the Iraqi people how long U.S.-led forces remain in the country. Bremer, speaking at a news conference today in Baghdad, said the length of time coalition forces remain in Iraq depends on how quickly Iraqis pass a constitution to be written by Iraqi leaders, and hold "democratic, free, and fair" elections.

"The constitution will be written by Iraqis, for Iraqis. The final product will be submitted to the Iraqi people in a referendum and, once approved, democratic, free, and fair elections can be held in Iraq for a fully sovereign Iraqi government. And then our job, the coalition's job, will be done," he said.

Earlier, Western media quoted unnamed U.S. military officials as saying thousands of U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq "indefinitely." Some 9,000 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division had been scheduled to return home in September.

Bremer also applauded the formation on 13 July of Iraq's new Governing Council. The 25-member council today agreed to set up war crimes tribunals and said it will begin naming a cabinet next week.

But there was also continued criticism of the council from Iraqis unhappy that members were selected by the U.S.-led coalition and not elected.

The city council in Al-Fallujah said today it rejects the council's authority because it was selected along ethnic lines. Shi'ite Muslims have a slim majority on the council, a marked shift for a country long ruled by minority Sunnis.