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Iraq: Citizens Favor Quick Transfer Of Power, But Want Elections

The front pages of Baghdad's newspapers today are dominated by news of an agreement reached between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council to transfer power to the Iraqis by June 2004. Although there has been little editorial comment in the Iraqi media about the development, ordinary Iraqis certainly are discussing the news.

Baghdad, 17 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Citizens of Baghdad say they approve of a decision to speed the transfer of power to an Iraqi government. But many ordinary Iraqis say a new Iraqi government should be elected rather than selected.

Yesterday, the Iraqi Governing Council announced that the U.S.-led administration would hand over power to a transitional, sovereign Iraqi government by June of next year. According to the announced plans, the election of a government would follow by the end of 2005 -- that is, after a new Iraqi constitution has been drafted. The first stage of the plan calls for the selection of a transitional council by the end of next May.

Baghdad carpet seller Rayd says it is not completely clear to him what the handover plan will mean in practical terms. But he says the establishment of a provisional government will be better than the current Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed by U.S. officials.

"I think it will be OK, better than this situation," he says. "The Governing Council now, they don't do anything here. You know, for security they do nothing. We hope the new government will [do things] better."

Rayd says he and other businessmen badly need stability for their businesses. He says every explosion or killing means additional losses for him because foreigners are leaving the country and ordinary Iraqis are becoming too scared to go out of their homes.

Muhammed, the owner of an electrical appliance shop in Baghdad, also says it is a good decision to transfer power to the Iraqis more quickly than originally planned.

"It is a good step taken by the coalition forces. We hope that the situation will get better in Iraq through the new elected government and, with God's help, the Iraqi people will be united," Muhammed said.

Still, Muhammed says he has some reservations about the announced plan. He told RFE/RL that if the provisional government is selected rather than elected, he thinks it will likely lead to dictatorship.

He says that only a democratically elected government can bring the stability that most Iraqis so desperately desire.

Heydar, a university professor, says no government can function in Iraq without stability on the ground.

"With God's help, we should have stability. If we don't have stability, I don't think that we will have the government. But we are optimistic. We will see what kind of government we will have after the elections. Frankly, we are scared of democracy in Iraq," Heydar said.

But Heydar insists that despite his reservations, he still hopes the next Iraqi government will be elected rather than selected by U.S. officials. He says that after 30 years of rule by deposed President Saddam Hussein, most Iraqis are ready for democracy and free elections.

Abu Fahad, who works in a state-owned company, says he also opposes the idea of having the next Iraqi government appointed rather than elected because, in his view, a U.S.-selected government will be merely a puppet of Washington.

"If it is a selected government, then we don't want it because the United States will be controlling it," he says. "Washington will control it. They will administrate it. It will serve them but it will not serve [the Iraqi] people. But if the people elect the next government, Iraqis will accept it."

Baghdad-based merchant Abbas Muhammed says he thinks it is too early to give power back to the Iraqis. He says he thinks a transitional government that is not under U.S. control is likely to lead Iraq into civil war. He says only U.S. control is able to prevent a bloodbath in the country.

"It will be good if the Iraqis get the power and security [under] American control and supervision," he says. "That is good."

Abbas says he thinks it would be a tragedy if U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country amid the current security crisis.