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Iraq Governing Council Hold Inaugural Session Sunday - 2003-07-12

A transitory governing council for Iraq is holding its inaugural session Sunday, the first step toward national elections by next year

Iraq's new governing council will consist of 25 prominent Iraqis. The members were appointed to the council, after provisional authorities consulted scores of Iraqis from all areas of society, and received nominations.

New council member Adnoun Al-Bachechi was appointed based on his long experience as an Iraqi diplomat and a prominent businessman. Prior to Saddam Hussein's rule, he spent a decade in government, serving as the Iraqi foreign minister and as Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations between 1959 and 1969.

Mr. Bachechi says the governing council is only temporary, meant to be the forerunner of a larger constitutional assembly, which will have about a year to draft a new constitution. National elections to select a sovereign Iraqi government are expected to follow.

"So, this is the first step, because the governing council will draft and enact all of the necessary laws, like the broad outlines of a constitution, election laws, population census, law for the formation of political parties, and so on and so forth," he said. "The governing council will have to look into the budget, the financial and fiscal problems of Iraq and the very important question of unemployment."

The governing council is expected to have broad representation, including leaders of prominent Shiite and Sunni Muslim parties, secular party members, and independent politicians. Women are also expected to play a prominent role.

The council will not be independent, however. Council members are expected to consult the U.S.-led provisional administration on all important issues.

Mr. Bachechi predicts, once the council is established, one of the most pressing issue for the members will be to find a way to stop the escalating violence against U.S. and British troops.

Since major combat was declared over on May 1, nearly 40 coalition troops have been killed in attacks. The violence is blamed on Saddam loyalists and Islamic militants who oppose occupational forces in Iraq.

"I think we will make clear to them that, as long as these acts of violence are committed, there is a chance the foreign military occupation will continue and stay longer," said Adnoun Al-Bachechi. "And the climate of violence will inhibit the council from enacting bold and necessary measures to overhaul the government structure of Iraq and start restoration of services."

But how much authority the governing council will have with the Iraqi people is still unclear. Many here say they remain deeply suspicious of a political body that they themselves have not chosen in an election.

Earlier this month, Iraq's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a fatwa, or a religious ruling, opposing the formation of the council. Shiite Muslims are the majority in Iraq, making up about 60 percent of the country's 22 million people.