Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US negotiates post-transfer role in Iraq

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

The Bush administration has begun delicate negotiations with Iraq's transitional leaders on the freedom US-led military forces will have to carry out operations against insurgents after the transfer of sovereignty to a new government in Baghdad on June 30, officials say.

While the Coalition Provisional Authority is scheduled to go out of business by the middle of next year, military officials have said recently that their forces may have to remain in Iraq for at least "a couple more years," in the words of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq.

Administration, Pentagon and military officials acknowledge that security operations must be conducted within inevitable new political constraints when Iraqis take charge of their own affairs, whether by next summer's deadline or later.

That is a prime motivation for the US push to rebuild Iraq's civil defense corps, army and police force, putting an Iraqi face on the security mission.

"Our tactics are going to have to change to some degree," a Bush administration official said.

"We are going to have to take the concerns of Iraqis into account," he said.

As discussions with Iraq's transitional authorities push ahead on security affairs, the US authorities are proceeding on a separate, more political track, to ensure that the Iraqi constitution, which is to be written by the government that takes power next year, embodies democratic and secular values.

The negotiations on the future military relationship between Washington and Baghdad, and on the principle of its future constitution, are widely seen as tests of whether Iraq can stand on its own next year and eventually serve as a model of democracy in the Middle East.

The Iraqi Governing Council, the group of Iraqi leaders chosen by the Coalition Provisional Authority to oversee Iraq, has set up a subcommittee to write a "transitional administrative law" to take effect next year before the June 30 handover, according to administration officials.

The transitional law is intended to flesh out the principles that the Governing Council agreed to in its discussions with Paul Bremer, the US occupation administrator, on Nov. 15. Translating the principles into a sweeping set of laws is proving difficult, however, some officials said. The sticking point, these officials said, is how far to incorporate Islamic law into the constitution.

Whatever the council decides would, in turn, be rewritten by the transitional government that is to take office next year. But US officials hope that the "transitional administrative law" is written so strongly that it will be adopted by a sovereign Iraqi government. How much leverage the US can bring to bear is a matter of conjecture.

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