Bush Wants Iraqi Elections on the Fast Track
By Rachel Laskow

Iraqis look on as U.S. Army soldiers and Iraqi police examine the debris after a vehicle exploded in front of the al-Khadra police station in northeastern Baghdad, Monday, October 27. (©Khalid Mohammed/AP Wide World)

Thursday, November 13—President George W. Bush wants to speed up Iraq's transition to self-rule. He hopes to hold elections in the first half of 2004 and turn civilian authority over to a temporary government before a new constitution is written.

Bush was pleased when L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, told him that Iraqis want to be more involved in the transition to self-rule. "That's a positive development," Bush said. "That's what we want. We want the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country."

Bremer returned to Iraq yesterday, where he will meet with the Iraqi Governing Council. Together, they will work on a plan that gives Iraqis more responsibility.

Currently, Iraqi political leaders in the 24-member Iraqi Governing Council want the immediate formation of a provisional, or temporary, government. However, Bush is pushing for elections.

Although Bremer is expected to discuss several ideas for speeding up Iraqi sovereignty, or self-rule, no official proposals have been released. One situation Bremer could propose to the council is setting up a temporary government that would create a constitution and hold elections.

"I'm going to go back and discuss the various ideas the Governing Council has put forward," Bremer said. "After all, they're the Iraqis. It's their country. We want to encourage the Iraqis to have more responsibility for their own country. They will make a decision, and at that point we will have something to say."

A Need for Sovereignty

Earlier this year, the Bush administration wanted a new constitution first, with elections to be held late next year. There would be no transfer of power before then. After a recent increase of violence in Iraq, however, Bush sees the urgent need for Iraqi sovereignty.

The administration believes that once Iraq has a temporary government, the country will receive more support from both the international community and Iraqis themselves. Establishing an interim government could enable the U.S. to send more troops home sooner.

"The Iraqis won't tolerate us staying in power for that long," said an administration official, talking about American rule as opposed to the presence of American forces. "Whatever we want to call ourselves, we are an occupying army, and we just cannot stay in power for that long."