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Britain: Revival of Iraqi Local Councils Underway - 2003-04-15

As Iraqis sit down for talks on post-war governance of their country, a senior British official says efforts are already under way to revive local councils. Iraqis gathered outside the southern city of Nasiriyah Tuesday for the first of a series of meetings on how Iraq should be run now that Saddam Hussein has been toppled.

The U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs has the task of overseeing Iraq until an Iraqi interim authority is formed.

The senior British official on the project is Major General Tim Cross, and he works with the director of the office, retired U.S. general Jay Garner.

General Cross told British radio Tuesday his objective is for a speedy handover to an Iraqi government. "The intention is to work ourselves out of a job as quickly as possible," says Mr. Cross. "We are working, certainly, to try and ensure that the majority of our work is done in the three-to-six months time frame." He says the office is already operating in northern and southern Iraq, and it aims to move into Baghdad within a week or two.

General Cross says the swift military victory over Saddam Hussein has helped avert what could have been a humanitarian crisis. "We do not have tens of thousands of starving people. We do not have lots of refugees. We do not have that crisis in Iraq today," he says. "You know, that's good news, so let's celebrate that aspect."

The Americans and British say their priority is to help Iraqis rebuild the country's political structures. General Cross says Iraqis, working at the grassroots level, must take the lead. "One has got to start from the bottom upwards," he says. "I think one's got to recognize that it is not up to us to impose whatever system we believe is right."

The general says that in British-controlled southern Iraq, local leaders are already starting to come forward to begin establishing town and city councils.