First Published: 2003-06-02

 
Unrest continues in Iraq
 

US moves ahead on forming interim Iraqi administration as Iraqis ignore campaign to collect personal weapons.

 

Middle East Online

Only few Iraqis have complied

BAGHDAD - The US-led administration in Iraq moved to form an interim Iraqi authority within the next six weeks, scrapping plans for a national conference, as US soldiers battled attackers in the latest unrest.

The coalition will appoint a political council to act as an interim government following wide-ranging consultations, officials said on condition of anonymity.

The 25- to 30-member body will advise occupation officials on economic and political issues and will name interim ministers for each Iraqi government department.

The political council will also debate, ratify and put to a referendum a new constitution to be drawn up by a separate convention to be launched within two months.

"This council will emerge as the face of the Iraqi people in its interactions with the coalition provisional authority," one senior official said.

The official said the interim administration would not be a sovereign government, and that "ultimate authority" would remain with the US-led occupation until it handed over power to a democratically elected government.

"We are doing this as fast as possible and basically within six weeks ... We are motivated by a real sense of urgency," he said.

Two US soldiers were wounded and two Iraqis killed in a grenade attack as tension persisted in Iraq and Iraqis ignored a campaign to collect personal weapons.

Witnesses confirmed that a group of Iraqis threw a grenade at an American vehicle in front of the Sunni Muslim Abu Hanifa mosque in the Azamiya district of Baghdad.

The US-led coalition has blamed loyalists to Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime for the majority of anti-US attacks that have taken place since the Iraqi strongman was ousted from power April 9.

The last deadly incident came Thursday, when a US soldier was shot dead on a main road north of Baghdad.

Twenty-three US soldiers have died in fighting or accidents in Iraq since May 1, when US President George W. Bush declared the war effectively over.

"The war has not ended. These operations happened in a combat zone and it is war," said Lieutenant General David McKiernan, the commander of coalition ground troops in Iraq.

Meanwhile in France, French President Jacques Chirac and US President George W. Bush prepared for their first bilateral talks since their dispute over the Iraq war.

A spokeswoman for Chirac said he and Bush would focus on the future in talks on Iraq, but neither would back down from their opposing positions.

France, Germany and Russia opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"If they discuss Iraq, it will not be to relive the past - that wouldn't be of much use - but to look toward the future, and how we can implement resolution 1483," the spokeswoman said, referring to the UN resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq and setting the stage for its postwar reconstruction.

"With respect to the past, each will maintain his position. We haven't changed our minds, and the United States hasn't either."

Chirac and Bush greeted each other with a handshake and a brief lukewarm exchange upon the US leader's arrival in the French town of Evian for the Group of Eight summit.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who strongly backed Bush, was meanwhile forced to deny his government had exaggerated the threat from Iraq's illegal weapons, as a spiralling row threatened to engulf him at the G8 summit.

Blair has invested much of his credibility in promising clear evidence of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, which British intelligence dossiers suggested before the war were ready for use within 45 minutes.

Former development minister Clare Short accused Blair in a newspaper interview of having misled people by making the crisis over weapons of mass destruction seem unnecessarily urgent ahead of the war.

British officials dismissed Short's comments, but as he flew in from Russia an exasperated and increasingly annoyed Blair faced a barrage of questions.

"Any suggestion that we somehow manufactured the intelligence is completely and totally false," he snapped at reporters travelling with him from Saint Petersburg, where he joined other leaders marking the city's 300th anniversary.

Blair said that the only reason no biological or chemical weapons had been found in Iraq since Saddam was ousted was a sheer lack of time, giving his personal guarantee that some would come to light.

Blair's claims about Iraq's weapons were central to his attempts to win over a deeply skeptical public before the conflict, and the current row threatens to undo much of the goodwill generated in Britain by the war's swift and successful conclusion.

In Washington, senior US lawmakers from both major political parties defended their support for the war on Iraq in spite of doubts about the intelligence used to justify the US-led assault.

"I still believe we will find those weapons," Senator John McCain told ABC television's "This Week" program. "Obviously all of us are disappointed that we haven't found more so far."

And in Australia, the defense minister, Robert Hill, also conceded Monday that flawed intelligence reports suggesting Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction may have influenced the decision to join the war in Iraq.

Hill told the The Sydney Morning Herald that Australia joined the US- and British-led invasion of Iraq in March in the belief the regime of Saddam Hussein was hiding banned weapons. "On the basis of what we understood, the action was the right action to take," Hill said.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's daughters are planning to seek asylum in Britain, a cousin of the deposed Iraqi president told the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Izzi-Din Mohammed Hassan al-Majid, an Iraqi exile living in London, said he was arranging an asylum application for Raghad, 35, and Rana, 33, who are currently living in Baghdad with their nine children in two rooms.

 

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