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US Officials Say Most Details of Iraq Power Transfer Strategy Mapped Out - 2004-05-20

Despite the upsurge of violence in Iraq, top U.S. officials say plans for handing over sovereignty to an interim government in Baghdad on June 30 are largely in place. They say the United States is ready to end its responsibility as an occupying authority and begin a new role as a strong ally of the provisional Iraqi government.

Bush administration officials say while the security situation in Iraq is tough, and could deteriorate further as the deadline for transferring sovereignty approaches, a strategy has been mapped out for both the hand-over and the nature of the relationship between the United States and Iraq after June 30.

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

Mr. Brahimi has proposed the caretaker administration should consist of a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents with a large consultative counsel formed to advise the new government until elections can be held next January.

A blueprint detailing the composition of the interim Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty is expected to be included in a new resolution to be presented to the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. State Department's coordinator for the Iraq Transition, Frank Ricciardone, says Iraqi officials in 27 ministries will manage the country and 200 American advisors will provide assistance.

He says a new U.S. embassy with a staff of nearly 1,000 people will be located inside the heavily guarded Green Zone in central Baghdad, and there will be four regional centers to oversee rebuilding projects throughout the country.

Mr. Ricciardone says the U.S. military will continue to provide security in Iraq after June 30 because a quick pull out could lead to a civil war.

?Security is the huge management element overhanging all else," he said. "Clearly we will depend, all U.S. government civilians and other coalition civilians, will depend in a gross sense on the multinational forces there, principally American forces, to provide a certain broad level of security.?

Mr. Ricciardone says despite the emphasis on security, the long-term goals for a new Iraq have not changed.

He concedes the objectives will not be achieved in the immediate future.

?I would like to point out that there is a transition going on at several levels,? Mr. Ricciardone said. ?There is the larger transition of Iraq from one of the most horrid dictatorships and cruelest dictatorships imaginable, in fact beyond imagination to we hope and believe and I certainly believe something far, far better, ultimately democracy, rule of law, an open society, an open economy. I believe all those things can be achieved in Iraq, not overnight.?

Retired Lieutenant General Mick Kicklighter, the director of the U.S. Defense Department's Iraq Transition Team, says his planning group is already looking beyond the June 30 hand-over date and toward Iraqi elections scheduled to take place early next year.

?The next major milestone is to get to that election. Then after that is to, once you have got that election, is to write the constitution and then you have another election. So our eye is not just on going through 1 July, but the other phases are out in front of us,? he said.

General Kicklighter says the U.S. military will continue to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces.

He says while there have been setbacks, Iraqi security services are having a positive impact throughout the country.

The State Department's transition coordinator Frank Ricciardone says a great deal of improvisation will be needed in the months ahead to get through what he expects will be very difficult circumstances.