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Countdown to US Handover of Power Begins in Iraq - 2004-03-24

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer has marked the start of a 100-day countdown to the handover of power to a provisional government by announcing the establishment of new institutions to fight corruption and safeguard national security. U.S. administrator also looked back on the past year and what has been accomplished toward Iraq's reconstruction.

Speaking to an audience in Baghdad, U.S. administrator Bremer talked about how much electricity had been restored in Iraq, how many schools reopened and what other public services have been re-established.

Mr. Bremer also stressed the significance of Iraq's reappearance on the world political stage and in sports, with athletes set to compete in the Olympics.

Mr. Bremer said the U.S.-appointed Governing Council's 25 members should be thanked for their work on the basic law that sets the groundwork for Iraqi sovereignty on June 30. The new provisional government will take charge of writing a more permanent constitution and preparing for elections.

"Iraq is now on the path to a full democracy in a united state at peace with its neighbors," he said.

Mr. Bremer also pledged more efforts on security. Drive-by shootings, bombings and mortar attacks against coalition forces, Iraqi police, foreign contractors and ordinary Iraqis working with foreigners have claimed hundreds of victims during the past several months.

"Iraq's security is the first concern of Iraqi citizens, we hear it every day, and the top priority of the coalition," he said. "To assure that Iraq has the structures to do so I will formally create a new Iraqi Ministry of Defense and a cabinet-level national security council later this week."

Another major concern is rampant corruption. Mr. Bremer has announced the creation of three independent agencies to deal with the issue, including a corps of inspectors and auditors for government ministries.

The top U.S. administrator says he will set up an independent agency to govern public broadcasting services as a way to protect the independence of Iraq's media.

The new measures are part of the coalition's effort to prepare Iraqi leaders during the next three-and-a-half months to take control of governing the country.

"In 100 days, Iraqis will be sovereign in their own land and responsible for their own future," he said.

The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist in 100 days. But Mr. Bremer insisted the coalition members remain committed to continuing their assistance in reconstruction and security programs.