Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States has set a six-month target date for Iraqi leaders to produce a constitution. He expects that will lead to elections and a transfer of full authority from the U.S.-led coalition to a new government, next year.
The move is intended to help build support for a draft U.N. resolution aimed at bringing more peacekeeping troops and reconstruction aid to Iraq. The United States has come under pressure from France and other Security Council member countries for an early transfer of governing authority to Iraqis. And although Mr. Powell declined to call the six-month target for the new constitution a deadline, he made clear at a U.N. news conference that the aim is to give a clearer sense of timing for the political transition in Baghdad.
"The term deadline suggests that something awful happens at the end of the six months," he said. "And I wouldn't want to convey the impression it falls off the end of the earth after six months. But six months seems to be a good timeline to put out there for the creation of this constitution, and also to give a sense of momentum and purpose to the effort of moving toward a full restoration of authority over Iraq to the Iraqi people."
Mr. Powell said it might take another six months after the constitution is finished to get an elected government in place and ready to assume full sovereignty. In the meantime, he said the United States and its coalition partners are prepared to remain in Iraq to see the process to a successful conclusion.
"The U.S. is prepared to remain as long as it is necessary to put in place a representative form of government in Iraq," he said, "and to help the Iraqis create that government, and the ministries and the institutions of government, and a constitution which determines how power will be distributed, and from that constitution elections that will put in place a representative leadership of the Iraqi people to take full authority back from the coalition."
U.S. officials said it is unlikely that the timeline would be spelled out in the U.N. resolution though it may include references to the new constitutions, elections and the installation of a new leadership.
They say the Bush administration remains open to changes in the draft if they can help bring other countries into the peacekeeping and reconstruction effort. The officials are confident a resolution meeting the administration's basic aims will get through the Security Council, though the negotiating process could take another month.