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US Plan to Transfer Iraqi Sovereignty Losing Support - 2004-02-17

Most members of the Iraqi Governing Council have said they no longer support a U.S. plan for choosing an interim government before power is handed over later this year. The U.S. coalition says it is opposed to any plan to include Islamic law in an interim constitution.

Most members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed governing council have said they no longer support a U.S. plan they endorsed last November that calls for regional meetings to choose an interim government.

Several council members, representing Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds, say the caucus system is too controversial. Some back a proposal for the U.S.-led coalition to hand power to the current Governing Council until elections can be held. Others have suggested a national conference of political and religious figures from which a new leadership would emerge.

The current plan has been in question for some time and was one aspect being scrutinized by a U.N. fact finding team that visited Iraq last week. The team all but ruled out the possibility of early elections.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Shi'ite groups have criticized comments by U.S. top administrator Paul Bremer who, they say, would oppose any use of Islamic law as the basis of Iraq's new constitution. The coalition says this was part of a long-standing agreement the United States has had with the Iraqi council.

"It is not Ambassador Bremer's position, it is the position of the Governing Council that they took when we reached agreement on how the political process would move forward, which is that Islam, the recognition of Islam, as the identity of the majority of Iraqis," said Dan Senor, the coalition spokesman in Baghdad. "But at the same time, ensuring there are protections for freedom of religious worship in this country for all Iraqis. The statements made by Ambassador Bremer yesterday are consistent with the agreement reached in the fall of last year."

Shi'ite clerics in Iraq threatened that any interference in the drafting of the constitution could bring about a crisis, and some hard-liners are calling for Islamic Sharia law to be the foundation of a new basic law. Mr. Bremer made clear in his comments Monday that he has the right to veto the constitution if he finds it unacceptable.

An interim basic law is to be drafted by the Governing Council in the coming weeks. It is due to be implemented during the transitional phase leading up to a full hand-over of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30 and serve until an elected Iraqi government can replace it.