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US Encourages Iraqis to Draft Interim Constitution - 2003-11-16

America's chief administrator for Iraq says the United States will help write an interim Iraqi constitution that guarantees individual rights. In a series of interviews on U.S. television, Paul Bremer talked about the steps that will lead to Iraqi self-rule by mid-2004.

If all goes according to plan, Mr. Bremer will be out of a job by the end of June.

He says the coalition authority will close its doors as Iraqis resume control. But he stresses a lot of work needs to be done between now and then, starting with the drafting of an interim Iraqi constitution.

"We will write into that interim constitution exactly the kinds of guarantees that were not in Saddam's constitution," Mr. Bremer said.

The interim constitution will be drafted by the current Iraqi Governing Council. Mr. Bremer told ABC's This Week program it will enshrine certain democratic values.

"We will have a bill of rights. We will recognize equality for all citizens. We will recognize an independent judiciary. We will talk about a federal government."

The interim constitution - or fundamental law, as Iraqis call it - will be in place when a new provisional government assumes power. Mr. Bremer said it will likely remain in effect for a few years and form the basis for a permanent constitution.

He said the busy months leading up to self-government will also produce a side agreement dealing with security issues and the presence of coalition troops. On CNN's Late Edition he said their status would change from occupying force to, what he termed, invited presence.

"The number of troops on the ground is not related directly to the coming into power of the new Iraqi government," he said. "It will be related to the security situation on the ground. We will still have a fight against terrorists here [Iraq]."

All this is part of an accelerated timetable for Iraqi sovereignty announced on Saturday. For months, the Bush administration insisted that a permanent constitution would have to be in place before a formal transfer of power could occur. But faced with increased violence and frustration in Iraq, the administration's position evolved.

Under this new timetable, Iraq will be back in Iraqi hands before the November 2004 U.S. presidential election.

Democrats are making the president's Iraq policy a campaign issue. Among them is Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He also appeared on CNN.

"First, I am glad that Ambassador Bremer and the administration have recognized that their policy is failing and they have to make a change," he said. "The problem is they are still missing the most critical element, which is international involvement."

Echoing statements made by other leading Democrats, including some who voted in Congress to support the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Edwards said the United States should transform the operation in Iraq into an international mission either through the United Nations or NATO.