Iraq's Governing Council met yesterday and prepared to unveil plans for a faster power transfer from US-led authorities, as the killing of another American soldier underlined the postwar guerrilla challenge.
Though Washington now wants a swifter handover of authority than first planned, US President George W. Bush insists the US will stay in Iraq until it is "free and peaceful."
One US soldier was killed and two were wounded in Baghdad in the latest bomb attack in an intensifying guerrilla campaign against occupying forces in Iraq, the US military said.
Insurgents now mounting some 30 attacks a day have killed 160 US soldiers in Iraq since Bush declared major combat over on May 1. US forces in Baghdad have hit back with "Operation Iron Hammer" for the past three days, using air strikes to destroy buildings they say were used by insurgents.
A purported statement by the al-Qaeda network, carried on an Islamist Web site yesterday, said it was behind all attacks on US troops in Iraq. The site has in the past carried purported statements by the group, using language similar to this claim.
The tougher US military policy coincides with a new US willingness to hand power to Iraqis quickly without waiting for a constitution to be ratified and full elections held.
Critics of US policy, such as France and Germany, have long urged Washington to speed up the transition to convince Iraqis enraged by the occupation that its end may be in sight.
The US-appointed Governing Council was preparing to announce plans for a faster transfer of power, a day after talks between its leaders and Iraq's US administrator, Paul Bremer.
A council source confirmed US reports that proposals called for a new national assembly to meet in the spring to elect a transitional government to take over by next summer.
The source said the council met to discuss details of what he called an Iraqi plan, rather than one made in Washington, where Bremer held urgent consultations earlier this week.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Bush administration had agreed to restore Iraq's independence as early as June. Bremer told Iraqi leaders late on Friday that Washington had broadly accepted a plan to accelerate the transfer of power which they put forward this week, it said.
ABC News reported that Bremer had proposed to the Iraqis that tribal elders and other leaders from Iraq's 18 provinces meet next spring to choose delegates for a new national assembly, which would in turn elect a transitional government.
The US would hand over power to this body, according to the US plan, ABC reported.
The writing of a new Iraqi constitution and full national elections would follow the election of the transitional government within the next two years, it said.
Some US lawmakers have voiced concern that Washington's policy switch might lead to a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq and scupper its prospects for a stable, democratic future.
"Look, we will stay until the job is done, and the job is for Iraq to be free and peaceful," Bush responded on Friday.
He was speaking as US planes and ground forces pounded targets in Iraq in the third day of "Operation Iron Hammer."