As the Iraqi resistance intensifies its attacks against coalition forces, the United States is working to accelerate its efforts to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis. L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, has ended two days of urgent meetings at the White House, and is returning to Baghdad with Washington's view of how best to quickly make Iraq self-governing.
Washington, 13 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Bremer emerged from the second day of consultations on 12 November to say only that the administration is standing by its original promise to give Iraqis control of their own country as quickly as possible. He would not disclose details of the White House meetings.
He was abruptly called to Washington to discuss strategy with senior officials of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. The meetings included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and, occasionally, Bush himself.
Speaking with reporters outside the White House, Bremer said time is short and negotiations between Washington and the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) are, in his words, "intensive." He noted that the United Nations has given the council a 15 December deadline to present its timetable for elections and the adoption of a constitution.
Asked about reports that the Bush administration is disappointed in the Washington-appointed IGC and its failure to take on new responsibilities rapidly, Bremer said it is too early, and there are too many difficulties remaining, to make such an assessment:
"I don't think it's fair to say the IGC is failing. They face a very difficult situation at this time. But the Iraqis are, I think, more and more effective in their assumption of authority," Bremer said.
Twice Bremer sidestepped questions about news reports that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has concluded that many Iraqis are disillusioned by the American occupation of their country and are increasingly siding with the insurgency.
Bremer said only that it is impossible to "quantify" Iraqi sentiment and added: "We have obviously a war on terrorism going on and a low-intensity conflict in Iraq. The stakes are very high. The stakes are very high for the war on terrorism, and the stakes are very high for moving towards a sovereign Iraqi government."
Bremer repeated the Bush administration's assertion that the vast majority of victims of resistance attacks are Iraqis, and said he does not believe they will succumb to intimidation.
He summarized the discussions by saying he presented to the Bush administration several plans put forth by the IGC for transferring power, and said he is bringing back to Baghdad Washington's views on the matter.
The Western press today reported that Washington is backing a plan to hold elections in the first half of next year to allow power to be transferred from Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority to a temporary government -- all before a constitution is drafted. Such an option would not mean the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops but could mark the first step toward a gradual military pullout, if the Iraqi government is able to gather broad support within the country. The IGC has voiced support for moving rapidly toward such a transfer of power, but with a crucial difference -- appointing council members to form the provisional government rather than holding elections. The government would then oversee the drafting of a constitution and pave the way for popular elections.
On the record, U.S. officials remained circumspect about the details of the Iraq plan. Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, at yesterday's daily White House briefing, refused repeatedly to reveal the substance of the two days of meetings, but characterized them much the way Bremer had.
"We are having some serous discussions about the best way to move forward, and those discussions include discussions with the [Iraqi] Governing Council. And they have a lot of ideas, the cabinet ministers are playing an important role, there is a lot of important progress being made on a number of fronts. Obviously, there are difficulties that remain, there are dangers that remain, but it's important that we continue moving forward as quickly as we can on all these fronts," Bremer said.
Both McClellan and Bremer, as well as Powell, speaking at the State Department, refused to comment on a widely reported option of naming an interim Iraqi leader, much as Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai was named in early 2002 for Afghanistan. As Powell said, "We're looking at all sorts of ideas."
Powell acknowledged that security in Iraq is "difficult," but said the officials attending the White House meetings are confident that coalition forces will be able to keep matters under control.
"We candidly took a look at the security situation. It's a difficult situation, but we are confident that our commanders will get on top of it and our intelligence experts will be able to penetrate these remnants of the old regime who are trying to destroy the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people," Powell said.
This optimistic assessment comes amid the news reports that the CIA assessment of security in Iraq forecasts increasing violence in the persistent guerrilla war and the prospect that more Iraqis may be joining the resistance.
Powell said there are other reports that Iraqis have faith in the United States and want American forces to stay in their country until it is stabilized: "There will be ups and downs in attitudes and feelings, but our position is clear: we will remain [in Iraq] long enough to make sure that the Iraqi people have the opportunity to put in place a government that is democratic."
As he declined to answer question after question seeking more detail on the meetings, Powell said simply that now is "a time for perseverance, a time for patience." He said Bush is adhering to the same goal he set at the beginning of the war: making sure that the Iraqis and the world have a government that they can all be proud of.