BAGHDAD - Iraqis chafed at the bit of coalition political control, with overseer Paul Bremer being warned of a possible crisis if he vetoes an Islamic constitution for Iraq and a report that the interim Governing Council is backing away from a deal on transferring sovereignty.
Shiite clerics reacted angrily to Bremer's threat to use his veto if the US-appointed Governing Council proposes a basic law that challenges the spirit of Western-style democracy.
The council has been tasked with writing a temporary constitution, or fundamental law, that will govern Iraq until national elections are held.
But many observers believe some council members are pushing to implement Islamic rule in the post-occupation era.
Iraqis chafed at the bit of coalition political control, with overseer Paul Bremer being warned of a possible crisis if he vetoes an Islamic constitution for Iraq and a report that the interim Governing Council is backing away from a deal on transferring sovereignty. (AFP/ABC/File)
Bremer vowed that the new law would protect civil liberties in line with the agreement he reached with the Governing Council last November that set June 30 as the final day of the US-led occupation.
"Our position is clear, and the text that is in there now is as I say. It can't become law until I sign it," Bremer said.
On Tuesday, the Najaf head of the main Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), warned against US intervention in the drafting of the country's legal code.
"I think that if one seeks to impose a solution other than what the Iraqi population wants, it would spark a crisis and none of the parties want this to happen," Sheikh Sadreddin al-Kubbanji said.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that most members of the Governing Council no longer support the US transition plan and are seeking direct sovereignty until elections can be held.
"The caucuses are pretty much dead now," Sunni council member Ghazi Yawar was quoted as saying in reference to the plan, which calls for caucuses to choose a transitional government that would assume authority on June 30.
Opposition to the US plan, agreed to by most council members in November, is strongest among the majority Shiite community, whose top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for direct elections before June 30.
But UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who led a UN fact-finding mission in Iraq to determine whether early elections could be held, has cautioned it would be very difficult to hold free and fair elections by that date.
Sameer Shaker Suamidi, another Sunni member of the council, told the Post that abandoning the US plan and transferring sovereignty to the council until fair elections can be held "makes the most sense".
Kurdish leader and council member Jalal Talabani has also come out in favor of transferring sovereignty to the council.
Yawar said the caucus system was too controversial, especially if elections were to be held by the end of 2004: "If it's only for six months, it's not worth it."
Senior US officials consulted by the daily said some council members had selfish reasons for opposing the US plan. By remaining in power until the elections, they would wield unrivaled political influence, allowing them to engage in patronage and skew the balloting rules.
The US officials said holding regional caucuses would allow new political talent to emerge and challenge the former exiles who now control the council and provide a more representative Iraqi administration.
"The Governing Council has been an effective body during this phase, but is it the appropriate body to hand over total sovereignty to?" a senior US official asked. "Is it sufficiently representative? Who is it accountable to? Will it be viewed as legitimate by the Iraqi people?"
Anticipating a UN recommendation for year-end elections, the daily said, US officials in Baghdad and Washington were frantically trying to assemble a set of contingency transition plans for Iraq.
On the ground, deputy interior minister Ahmed Ibrahim confirmed Tuesday that five men were arrested over the weekend in connection with the murder last year of Governing Council member Akila al-Hashemi.
Hashemi was hit by three bullets as she left her Baghdad home on September 20 and died from her wounds five days later.
For his part, Iraqi trade minister Ali Allawi said Hussein Abdul Fattah, one of his senior civil servants, was shot dead in an apparent assassination last Wednesday as his car pulled into the street.
And the US military said an American soldier was killed and another wounded when a bomb exploded as their convoy passed on a road in northern Iraq late Monday.
According to Pentagon figures, attacks by insurgents have claimed the lives of 261 US soldiers since US President George W. Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1.
© Copyright 2004 AFP