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Analysts Concerned Over Perception of Bush Iraqi Plan in Mideast - 2004-05-25

President Bush says the international coalition in Iraq has no interest in continuing the occupation and on June 30 full sovereignty will be transferred to an interim government. While most Middle East analysts agree that such a move is a critically important step, some are worried about how it is being perceived in the region.

President Bush says the five steps in his plan for Iraq to achieve democracy and freedom are handing over authority to a sovereign government June 30, establishing security, rebuilding infrastructure, encouraging more international support and moving toward national elections.

Mr. Bush says he is confident future generations of Iraqis will be grateful the United States stood firm against the upsurge of violence in their country.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Iraq can achieve this great dream and vision," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind someday their children will come to America and say thank goodness America stood the line and was strong. It did not falter in the face of the violence of a few."

Analysts looking at shorter-term objectives express concern about the June 30 handover of power and the relationship the United States will have with the interim Iraqi government.

Kenneth Pollack, a specialist on political and military affairs with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, says American officials should not be intensely involved in selecting Iraqi leaders for the new administration in Baghdad.

"One of the most disconcerting things that I have been hearing over the last few days is that the United States is deeply involved in trying to broker deals about who is or is not going to assume these new positions inside this new transitional government," said Mr. Pollack. "If that is the case, that is very disconcerting to me, because right now if we are in there seen as manipulating the process and trying to bring this person or that person to power and keeping this person or that person out. We will contaminate this process."

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland says many people in the Middle East doubt the June 30 transfer of sovereignty will put significant power in the hands of Iraqis.

"I think most people in the region don't see this as a genuine transition," said professor Telhami. "They see it as just another way for the United States to extricate itself from its responsibilities in the region. This is an American occupation that is likely to continue. I think that you can mitigate that by doing certain things like having a bigger United Nations role and I think that could help."

United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is currently negotiating the structure of the new government as well as deciding which Iraqis will assume leadership positions.

They will rule Iraq until elections can be held early next year.

Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, says those elections should be the fundamental focus of the international community after the transfer of sovereignty.

"If you tie the mandate of the international political authorities and the military authorities to the preparation for and conduct of elections, and that mandate then ends when those elections have taken place, you have a sense of finality," he explained. "You would put, I think, the United Nations in charge of assisting the Iraqi government in conducting those elections. You would put the MNF in charge, the multi-national force, of training Iraqi security forces to fill the gaps that exist now on the security side and to provide security for elections."

President Bush says at least 138,000 soldiers will stay in Iraq and more will be sent if commanders ask for them.

The president says he has ordered the Pentagon to accelerate the training of Iraqis to provide security and to defend their country.

Mr. Bush says eventually there will be 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and other security personnel.