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Bush Discusses Political Transition Plan with Current Head of Iraqi Governing Council - 2004-01-20


U.S. President George Bush has met with the current head of Iraq's Governing Council to discuss the country's political transition. The U.S. plan for that transition is opposed by many Shi'ite Muslims who want more direct elections.

The Bush administration says it is willing to change its plan for Iraq's political transition but only within the boundaries of a deal with the U.S. appointed Iraqi Governing Council. That plan calls for 18 regional conferences to select a national assembly that would then appoint a transitional government by the end of June.

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims have rallied against that plan, backing calls by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to choose that transitional government through more direct elections.

White House officials say the transitional government will eventually oversee broader elections, but there is not enough time to come up with a new voter registry in four months.

U.S. officials and members of the governing council have taken the dispute to the United Nations. Secretary General Kofi Annan indicated to them he will consider sending a team to Iraq to advise whether a vote could be held by June. President Bush says he still wants the U.N. to play a "vital" role in post-war Iraq, but security concerns have limited the U.N. presence on the ground.

Following his Oval Office meeting with President Bush, the current head of Iraq's governing council, Adnan Pachachi says the goal is to come up with a transitional authority that has legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people. "We are looking at various options on this and we hope to be able to make certain refinements, so to speak, to make it more transparent and more inclusive. Because we want to have a legislative assembly that will really reflect the desires of the Iraqi people and be fully representative, a broad representative base, which is very important," he said.

Mr. Pachachi said the governing council wants to help establish a viable Iraqi democracy based on the rule of law and equality for all citizens.

He said he thanked President Bush for his determination to topple Saddam Hussein. Mr. Pachachi will be a guest in the First Lady's box at the president's State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.

Mr. Bush will use Mr. Pachachi's attendance to reinforce his vision for a post-war Iraq. The latest public opinion poll shows Americans still support the president's handling of the situation in Iraq, which will be central to this year's campaign for re-election.