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Iraqi Governing Council Officials Deny Rift With Washington - 2003-09-24

The leaders of Iraq's interim Governing Council, who are in New York for the annual meeting of the General Assembly, are denying reports of a rift with the United States over a timetable for self-rule. Members of the council expect a U.S. presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Several prominent U.S. media have reported that efforts to rebuild Iraq are being complicated by a dispute over when the United States will turn over control of the country to Iraqis.

In an interview published Tuesday in the New York Times newspaper, Iraqi Governing Council President Ahmed Chalabi said the U.S. led occupation force should hand over power right away. U.S. officials have indicated it will be some time before such a handover takes place.

But at a news conference Wednesday in New York, Mr. Chalabi went to great length to downplay any disagreement. He said he remains grateful to President Bush and the American people. "We have no disagreement with the United States government. We are not at odds with the United States," he said.

Another member of the Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, estimated it would be at least the middle of next year before a constitution could be drawn up, and possibly much longer before an Iraqi government is ready to take power.

"I hope that within seven or eight months we could have a constitution that could be submitted to the people in a referendum for their approval, then when that happens we can have elections under international supervision and then we will have a government which derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people," he said.

In his speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, President Bush said he would not be hurried in returning Iraq to Iraqi rule. France, Germany and Russia are said to be pushing for an accelerated timetable for the transfer of power, and a greater United Nations role in the process.