The Bush Administration's top civilian official in Iraq says the timetable for handing over power depends on the Iraqi people and their progress towards self-rule. As the U.S. Civil Administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer oversees the day-to-day, non-military governance of the country. Appearing on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday, Mr. Bremer said the goal of the United States is to relinquish power to a democratically-elected Iraqi government, but that critical steps need to be taken first.
"The key question now is [Iraqis] writing a new constitution," he said. "That has to happen before there can be elections, and elections will lead to a sovereign Iraqi government, at which time the [international] coalition will have done its job. That does not mean that there will not have to be [foreign] security forces there. But the part that I am responsible for, the civilian administration, goes out of business the day there is a sovereign government."
Mr. Bremer says progress has already been made in the months since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, including the establishment of an interim governing council representing the country's major ethnic and religious groups. But he added that much remains to be done, including the formation of a new Iraqi army and a new civilian police force.
Mr. Bremer says Saddam Hussein is probably alive and hiding in a region stretching from the ousted dictator's hometown of Tikrit to Baghdad. He said it would be helpful if more countries sent forces to maintain order and help stabilize Iraq, including apprehending Saddam loyalists that continue to mount attacks on coalition forces.
But Mr. Bremer stressed the importance of maintaining a unified military command structure led by the United States, and added that there is no need for U.N. involvement in policing Iraq.
"It is hard to see how the United Nations can play a military role [in Iraq]," explained Mr. Bremer. "One of the lessons of these transitions we have seen in Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere is the importance of unity of command.
"For the time being, all military forces are and should remain under American military command," he continued. "Now there are already 19 countries already on the ground there working under our command. So, it is not as if we do not have an international force there."
Mr. Bremer says U.S. troops levels in Iraq are sufficient, but that less heavy artillery and more lightly-armed mobile troops are needed now that major conflict has ended.