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Bremer: June 30 Iraqi Handover Deadline to Stand - 2004-02-19

U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer says changes in the way a transitional authority is chosen could be made, but the June 30 date for the power transfer remains firm.

Mr. Bremer assured Iraqis that power will be handed over to a transitional authority by the end of June, as planned. Speaking to reporters at a briefing at the coalition's Baghdad headquarters, he said the clock is ticking on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"There are 133 days before sovereignty returns to an Iraqi government on June 30," he said. "Changes in the mechanism for forming an interim government are possible, but the date holds. And hold it should."

He said the agreement reached with the governing council last November would be honored, but the process leading up to the handover could be changed.

Ambassador Bremer spoke shortly before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there is a consensus that holding elections in Iraq before the June 30 transfer of power is not feasible.

The current Iraqi Governing Council was handpicked by the U.S.-led coalition occupying the country and is seen as tainted by many Iraqis. U.N. officials are currently working on ways to choose an interim government that will be seen as legitimate by a majority of Iraqis.

Mr. Bremer said the council is still discussing what should be in transitional law. He said the council had previously agreed to implement a law guaranteeing equal rights for all Iraqi citizens.

"I am assuming that the governing council will stick with what it said and recognize those freedoms and the equality of all Iraqis irrespective, as I said in my statement, of religion, ethnicity or gender," he said.

In a separate development, two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in a town 60 kilometers west of Baghdad.